A class-action lawsuit filed by Columbia Legal Services demands COVID-19 vaccines be made immediately available for all people incarcerated in Washington prisons and seeks an order banning direct contact with incarcerated people by Department of Corrections (DOC) employees and contractors who refuse vaccines. The lawsuit alleges the state’s refusal to promptly vaccinate the approximately 15,000 people living in prisons — where the infection rate is more than eight times higher than in the general population — violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Among the more than 1 million Washingtonians who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 102 people in 18 counties have tested positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after their vaccinations, according to the state Department of Health. Those cases include eight people who have been hospitalized. Two deaths are also being investigated as possible “vaccine breakthrough” cases, the department said. The vaccine breakthrough cases, which the department says are expected with any vaccine, represent .01% of the people who have been fully vaccinated and were tallied since Feb. 1
Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
EU says ‘no evidence’ to restrict use of AstraZeneca vaccine
BERLIN (AP) — The head of the European Medicines Agency said Wednesday that there is “no evidence” that would support restricting use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in any population, as Germany has now done amid concerns over rare blood clots in people who got the shot.
But EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said her Amsterdam-based agency continues to study reports of new cases as they come in and will provide a further assessment next week.
On Tuesday, an independent vaccine expert panel in Germany said AstraZeneca shots should not routinely be given to people under 60 because of a rise in reported cases of unusual blood clots in the days after vaccination.
The German government followed the recommendation and said the British-Swedish company’s vaccine would be prioritized for people age 60 and older, although exceptions can be made in consultation with doctors.
The move put the spotlight back on the European Medicines Agency, which authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine in January and said earlier this month – after some European countries suspended its use over blood clot fears – that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks.
“According to the current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence that would support restricting the use of this vaccine in any population,” Cooke told reporters.
—The Associated Press
Holy days arrive for faithful as COVID-19 pandemic eases in U.S.
For Christians across the United States, Easter services on Sunday will reflect an extra measure of joy as the nation experiences rising optimism after a year of pandemic. Even if still observing restrictions, many churches may draw the largest numbers of in-person worshippers in months.
It’s a season of major holy days for other faiths as well, occurring in a brighter mood than a year ago. Jews are observing Passover this week, and Muslims will enter the holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.
In Houston, the Rev. Meredith Mills is eagerly anticipating a return to in-person worship Sunday in the sanctuary of Westminster United Methodist Church. Except for a few Christmastime services that drew a handful of people, the church has been worshipping on its front lawn since October.
—The Associated Press
Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down governor’s mask mandate
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate Wednesday, stripping the governor of one of his last remaining tools to curb large-scale spread of COVID-19 as the state stands on the precipice of another surge in infections.
The conservative-leaning court ruled 4-3 that Evers violated state law by unilaterally issuing multiple emergency orders to extend the mandate for months. The court found Evers needed legislative approval to issue more orders after the initial 60-day mandate he issued in August expired.
“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote for the majority.
The decision marks another legal defeat for Evers. The Supreme Court in May struck down his stay-at-home order, finding that his health secretary lacked the authority to issue such an order. A state appeals court blocked Evers’ attempts to limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other indoor places in October.
Wednesday’s decision comes as COVID-19 cases have been rising in the state. The seven-day average has jumped from fewer than 400 cases in mid-March to 501 on Tuesday. State Department of Health Services Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state is seeing “warning signs” that another surge in infections is about to begin.
—The Associated Press
Trump adviser warned then-president on coronavirus supply shortage, then pursued controversial deals
A top adviser privately urged President Donald Trump to acquire critical medical supplies in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak — and after the warning was ignored, pursued his own ad hoc strategy that committed more than $1 billion in federal funds and has since prompted multiple probes, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators.
Peter Navarro, who served as Trump’s trade adviser, warned the president on March 1, 2020, to “MOVE IN ‘TRUMP TIME'” to invest in ingredients for drugs, handheld coronavirus tests and other supplies to fight the virus, according to a memo obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak. Navarro also said that he’d been trying to acquire more protective gear like masks, critiquing the administration’s pace.
“There is NO downside risk to taking swift actions as an insurance policy against what may be a very serious public health emergency. If the covid-19 crisis quickly recedes, the only thing we will have been guilty of is prudence,” Navarro wrote to the president. At the time, there were about 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States and just two deaths linked to the outbreak.
But after Trump ignored Navarro’s recommendations, the trade adviser embarked on his own strategy to acquire supplies with little oversight, Democrats said. Navarro subsequently steered a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak to produce ingredients for generic drugs, a $354 million sole-source contract for pharmaceutical ingredients to a startup called Phlow, and a $96 million sole-source contract for powered respirators and filters from AirBoss Defense Group.
—The Washington Post
Beyond the pandemic: London tourism braces for slow recovery
After three national lockdowns, London’s tourist attractions and other hospitality businesses are making tentative plans to reopen in mid-May — the earliest the government says international travel can resume. But deep uncertainty about COVID-19 remains.
With quarantine requirements and travel restrictions still in place everywhere and Europe battling a new surge of infections, many are bracing for another bleak year.
For London’s tourism industry, which employs one in seven workers in the capital, the pandemic has been a body blow. With hotels, attractions and leisure shopping in a near-total shutdown, the industry’s contribution to London’s economy plunged from 15.7 billion pounds ($21.6 billion) in 2019 to just 3 billion pounds ($4.1 billion) in the past year, according to VisitBritain, the national tourism agency.
Even national treasures like the Tower of London have struggled. Historic Royal Palaces, a charity that runs the Tower and other heritage attractions, has said it expected a 100 million-pound ($137 million) shortfall because of COVID-19.
Many expect a slow recovery, particularly because London always has been reliant on international tourism. Over half of all consumer spending in the West End — home to the city center’s bustling shops, restaurants, pubs and theaters — typically comes from European and other overseas visitors.
—The Associated Press
China reports COVID-19 outbreak on border with Myanmar
BEIJING — At least nine people have tested positive for COVID-19 in a Chinese city on the border with Myanmar, health officials said Wednesday.
Five are Chinese citizens are four are Myanmar nationals, the Yunnan Province Health Commission said in a report posted online.
The city of Ruili, with a population of about 210,000 people, said all residents would be tested for COVID-19 and would have to home quarantine for one week. The residential compound where the infections were found has been locked down.
The city also ordered a crackdown on people who cross the border illegally, anyone who shelters them and those who organize such border crossings. It wasn’t immediately clear how the outbreak started.
The government has stepped up border control efforts since the coronavirus outbreak to try to stem the flow of people in both directions. Residents told the AP that government workers have been recruited to do monitoring shifts along the border.
—The Associated Press
Macron to address the nation as France’s epidemic surges
PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to impose new virus restrictions in a televised address to the nation Wednesday night, amid growing pressure to act more boldly to combat surging coronavirus hospitalizations.
Among options he is considering are closing all French schools and banning travel within the country, according to a government official, who was not authorized to be publicly named.
Any such nationwide move would be a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalized restrictions. School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.
A debate is scheduled in parliament Thursday that will address the virus situation and the new measures.
“The key factor in our decision-making remains the situation in hospitals,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday after Macron hosted his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting and a Cabinet meeting.
—The Associated Press
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Two million more Washingtonians become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines today. Clinics are preparing for an influx of people. But if you meet these qualifications, be patient: Demand is outstripping supply. Here's our guide to getting your vaccine, along with a look at the possible side effects and how to manage them.
Pfizer's vaccine works safely in kids as young as 12, the company announced today, setting the stage for possibly beginning shots before students head back to school in the fall. The study also reported on side effects.
.01% of Washingtonians have tested positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after vaccination, the state said yesterday. Most of the people with "breakthrough cases" in 18 counties had mild symptoms, but two deaths are being investigated.
No shirt, no shoes, no vax, no service? Vaccine passports are coming and we’re not ready, columnist Danny Westneat writes.
Seattle-area residents who’ve been vaccinated are waiting for the rest of the world to catch up, and some are finding that getting their vaccine hasn't lifted away the anxiety of the pandemic: “Re-entry anxiety is a real thing.” Here’s how their lives have changed, and how they haven’t.
Seattle Times staff & news services