More than 28 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but they’ll have to keep waiting for guidance from federal health officials for what they should and shouldn’t do.
In Washington, King County health officials received good news Friday about the availability of the new one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could help more quickly vaccinate the more than 100,000 elders awaiting doses. And in Snohomish County, a downtown Everett arena has been transformed into the county’s fifth mass vaccination location.
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.
What’s in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill?
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate approved a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition on Saturday, moving President Joe Biden closer to a milestone political victory that would provide $1,400 checks for most American and direct billions of dollars to schools, state and local governments, and businesses.
The bill cleared by a party-line vote of 50-49 after a marathon overnight voting session and now heads back to the House for final passage, which could come early next week.
Democrats said their “American Rescue Plan” would help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticized the $1.9 trillion package as more expensive than necessary. The measure follows five earlier virus bills totaling about $4 trillion that Congress has enacted since last spring.
—The Associated Press
Senate passes $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package
The U.S. Senate on Saturday passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
The plan includes stimulus checks of up to $1,400 for people making $75,000 or less, $350 billion for cities and states and $130 billion for schools, the Washington Post reports. The package authorizes $300 per week in additional unemployment payments until September.
The proposal now returns to the House.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray said in a statement the package "acknowledges just how much people across this country are hurting right now, and provides them with relief that begins to meet this moment."
Labeling several areas of the bill "Washington State Priorities," Murray's office praised assistance for local governments, $12 billion for food programs like SNAP and WIC, $30 billion for transit agencies and $14 billion in "payroll support" for airline employees.
The package was scaled back from President Joe Biden's original proposal after pushback from moderate Democrats. The plan includes more narrow eligibility for stimulus checks and does not include a $15 federal minimum wage.
Dalai Lama gets vaccine shot
DHARMSALA, India (AP) — The Dalai Lama, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, was administered the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine on Saturday at a hospital in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala.
After receiving the injection, he urged people to come forward, be brave and get vaccinated.
“In order to prevent some serious problems, this injection is very, very helpful,” he said.
Dr. G.D. Gupta of Zonal Hospital, where the shot was administered, told reporters that the Dalai Lama was observed for 30 minutes afterward. “He offered to come to the hospital like a common man to get himself vaccinated,” he said.
—The Associated Press
As British companies move to mandate coronavirus vaccines for employees, discrimination fears mount
Some British companies are planning to give their workers a stark choice this year: Accept the coronavirus vaccine or lose your job.
Labor rights groups have come out against the policy, dubbed “jabs for jobs,” arguing that mandatory vaccines would not stop the spread of the virus but could lead to discrimination on socio-economic and ethnic grounds.
“A ‘no jab, no job’ approach will be counterproductive,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, a Swiss-based group that represents more than 2 million service workers worldwide. “To make workplaces safer, employers cannot take shortcuts, and that is what these proposals are.”
In Britain, two private elderly care home companies, employing more than 20,000 people between them, have said they will require vaccinations for staff, citing concerns about the spread of the virus in a sector that has seen a large proportion of covid-19 deaths.
Care UK announced last week that vaccinations would be required for any new staffers. Another firm, Barchester, announced shortly before that it expect all workers to be vaccinated by April 23, though it said that there would likely be an exemptions for pregnant staff.
Supporters of the “jabs for jobs” policies in care homes have pointed to the reports of low uptake of the vaccine among elderly care home staff, which stood at around 52% in London last week, according to government officials.
—The Washington Post
Open spaces, no pharmacies: rural US confronts vaccine void
SURRY, Va. (AP) — When Charlome Pierce searched where her 96-year-old father could get a COVID-19 vaccine in January, she found zero options anywhere near their home in Virginia. The lone medical clinic in Surry County had none, and the last pharmacy in an area with roughly 6,500 residents and more land mass than Chicago closed years ago.
To get their shots, some residents took a ferry across the sprawling James River to cities such as Williamsburg. Others drove more than an hour past farms and woodlands – the county got its first stoplight in 2007 – to reach a medical facility offering the vaccine.
At one point, Pierce heard about a state-run vaccination event 45 minutes away, No more appointments were available, which perhaps was for the best: the wait there reportedly could last up to seven hours.
“That would have been a daunting task,” she said, citing her father’s health conditions and frequent need to use the bathroom. “I could not have had him sit in a car and wait for something that might happen. We’re not in a Third World country.”
As the nation’s campaign against the coronavirus moves from mass inoculation sites to drugstores and doctors’ offices, getting vaccinated remains a challenge for residents of “pharmacy deserts,” communities without pharmacies or well-equipped health clinics. To improve access, the federal government has partnered with 21 companies that run free-standing pharmacies or pharmacy services inside grocery stores and other locations.
—The Associated Press
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The Senate began a "vote-a-thon" shortly before midnight Friday to vote on amendments to a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package. Democrats are hoping for final passage around midday Saturday to send the bill back to the House then to President Joe Biden.
Black and Latino residents in King County ages 65 and older are the least likely in their age group to be vaccinated as the state continues to grapple with a vaccine shortage. Black, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islanders have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and have the highest levels of hospitalizations and comorbidity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported that counties opening restaurants for on-site dining indoors or outdoors saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later. The study does not prove cause and effect, but CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday "we would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.”
Long-term care facilities are facing a question of whether to require their employees to be vaccinated. The federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has indicated employers can likely require the vaccine with health and religious exemptions.
The spread of coronavirus variants and reopenings are driving an increase in COVID-19 cases across Europe, which recorded 1 million new cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week.
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Seattle Times staff & news services