The Olympic torch relay, which begins Thursday in northeastern Japan, could be the “canary in the coalmine” for the effort to hold the Olympics in four months despite the pandemic, the Associated Press reports. It was at the start of the relay a year ago that the Olympics were postponed — for the first time since the modern Olympics began in 1896 — because of the coronavirus pandemic. If the relay has problems, if COVID-19 cases pop up and if there are delays, it could send up red flags about the feasibility of holding the Tokyo Olympics.
A temporary emergency order issued Tuesday bans insurers from using credit scores to set rates for personal property insurance amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington. The order applies to personal insurance on private automobiles, as well as renter and homeowner’s coverage, according to the rule, and prohibits insurers from using credit history to determine premiums, rates or eligibility for personal insurance coverage. The ban kicks in on all new policies or policy renewals processed on June 20 or later.
Central Europe’s hospitals slammed, can’t treat all in need
Poland recorded its highest daily number of new coronavirus infections Wednesday as hospitals buckle under a new surge. Hungary has the highest per capita death rate in the world. And Romanian doctors are working around the clock and having to decide who does — and doesn’t — get a bed in an intensive care unit.
The coronavirus pandemic is unleashing enormous suffering as infection rates rise across central Europe even as the Czech Republic and Slovakia — recently among the worst-hit areas in the world — are finally seeing some improvements following tight lockdowns.
In Poland, officials say this “third wave” of the pandemic is driven by the highly contagious virus variant first detected in Britain, which now makes up most of the new cases. The country’s vaccine rollout is happening far too slowly to hold back this powerful wave of illness and deaths.
—Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press
Homeschooling doubled from pandemic’s start to last fall
The rate of households homeschooling their children doubled from the start of the pandemic last spring to the start of the new school year last September, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report released this week.
Last spring, about 5.4% of all U.S. households with school-aged children were homeschooling them, but that figure rose to 11% by last fall, according to the bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
The survey purposefully asked the question in a way to clarify that it was inquiring about genuine homeschooling and not virtual learning through a public or private school, the Census Bureau said.
Before the pandemic, household homeschooling rates had remained steady at around 3.3% through the past several years.
“It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children,” the report said.
—Mike Schneider, The Associated Press
New virus variant detected in India; experts urge caution
A new and potentially troublesome variant of the coronavirus has been detected in India, as have variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, health officials said Wednesday.
Health Ministry officials and experts, however, cautioned against linking the variants with an ongoing surge in new infections in India. Cases in India had been plummeting since September but spiked again last month and more than 47,000 new infections in one day and the highest one-day death toll in more than four month.
The new variant found in India has two mutations in the spiky protein that the virus uses to fasten itself to cells, said the director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.
—The Associated Press
Merkel drops Easter shutdown plan for Germany, apologizes
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday dropped plans for a five-day shutdown over Easter, which had prompted confusion and criticism. She called the idea a mistake and apologized to Germans.
Merkel announced the decision after a hastily arranged videoconference with Germany’s 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions. The same group, faced with rising coronavirus infections, had come up early Tuesday with the unexpected plan for tighter restrictions over Easter.
The plan, which was to begin next Thursday, raised legal issues as well as questions about whether it could be implemented well in the short time.
—The Associated Press
National Guard troops ambushed at gunpoint while transporting coronavirus vaccine, police say
It was before 9 a.m. Monday on the edge of Lubbock, Texas, when a man, armed with a loaded pistol, allegedly barreled down the highway in hot pursuit of Texas National Guard members.
The soldiers were transporting coronavirus vaccine to a town 80 miles away, authorities said. But Larry Harris, a 66-year-old Arizona man, later told police he thought the three unmarked white vans were involved in the kidnapping of a woman and child.
Harris tried to run the vans off the road, then swerved into oncoming traffic to stop them before ordering 11 soldiers out at gunpoint, culminating in a bizarre moment that left them shaken on the side of a small-town highway road, said Idalou Police Chief Eric C. Williams.
Harris was arrested soon after police arrived and charged with several offenses, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and an obscure law that makes it a crime to interfere with Texas military forces, Williams said. The soldiers were not harmed in the incident.
—The Washington Post
Belgium reverts to strict lockdown amid spike in virus cases
Belgium is reintroducing strict lockdown measures in response to a worrying surge of new COVID-19 infections, with the government saying Wednesday that schools would close and residents would have limited access to non-essential businesses.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the virus variant first identified in Britain is taking a heavy toll on the health of the country’s people: confirmed cases increased 40% over the last week, and hospital admissions rose 28% following a long stable period.
“The largest number of infections is in the 10 to 19 age group,” De Croo said.
—The Associated Press
Alternatives to nursing homes get $12B boost in COVID-19 law
With the memory of the pandemic’s toll in nursing homes still raw, the COVID-19 relief law is offering states a generous funding boost for home- and community-based care as an alternative to institutionalizing disabled people.
Advocates hope the estimated $12.7 billion will accelerate what has been a steady shift to supporting elderly and disabled people and their overwhelmed families in everyday settings. But the money for state Medicaid programs, long in coming, will only be available over four calendar quarters this year and next. That’s raising concerns it will have just fleeting impact, and prompting calls for permanent legislation.
The coronavirus pandemic starkly exposed the vulnerability of nursing home residents. Only about 1% of the U.S. population lives in long-term care facilities, but they accounted for about one-third of COVID-19 deaths as of early March, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press
France hit by 3rd virus surge; culture minister in hospital
France’s high-profile culture minister has been hospitalized for COVID-19, the latest senior official to become ill as the nation faces a third surge of coronavirus infections, this one propelled by a highly contagious variant first found in Britain.
Roselyne Bachelot, 74, announced last weekend that she tested positive and her hospitalization was made public Wednesday. The virus has been gaining steam in France, with ICUs in the Paris region, the north and southeast France bursting at the seams.
In the Paris region the rate of infection for 20- to 50-year-olds is above 700 for 100,000 inhabitants, and higher yet in other regions, according to Paris area health system chief Aurelien Rousseau. Doctors are reporting an increasing number of young people without other health issues entering ICUs, he tweeted.
—The Associated Press
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Spend an afternoon with Seattle's COVID-19 "vaccine chasers": People who don't yet qualify for vaccination — or do but can't get an appointment — are flocking to vaccine hubs each day in the hope of scoring a leftover dose. There are rules about how this works, and sometimes your eligibility comes down to the smallest detail. Here's our updated guide to getting your vaccine.
Yes, vaccinated people can still get COVID-19, one doctor learned firsthand with a "huge shock" when he fell ill. Breakthrough infections are likely very rare, new research indicates, but they're a sharp reminder that vaccines don't make everyone invincible.
Nearly half of U.S. public schools are open for full-time, face-to-face classes. But there's a strikingly wide racial gap in which children are attending class in person, according to new data released today.
Say "vaccine!" Bellevue ninth-grader Andy Mereckis wanted to do something positive, so he picked up his phone and started capturing history. The result, he hopes, will "show that there’s a light at the end of this dark time."
More COVID-19 relief money will flood into King County after its council yesterday approved a $94.3 million round of funding. Here's where the money will go.
Washington state was not amused when one city's council members went maskless. They've been slapped with a fine and stern words.
Indiana is lifting its mask mandate and business restrictions. "I don't think we're ready for that," health officials there are fretting.
If you're working from home, are you itching to return to the office, or hoping you can keep wearing pajama pants and commuting downstairs forever? As more employers reopen offices, we'd like to hear from you.
Seattle Times staff & news services