Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, April 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
The $15.6 billion COVID-19 response package could shrink to $10 billion as conversations continue, according to lawmakers.
The money would be used to purchase vaccines, treatments and tests, which officials have said are dwindling, in order to make them accessible to people at no cost.
As the omicron surge in South Korea slows, officials announced they will ease some pandemic restrictions, including raising the capacity limit on private social gatherings from eight to ten people.
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.
As Biden pleads for more COVID aid, states are awash in federal dollars
Gov. Andy Beshear has been toting oversize checks around his state in recent weeks, handing them out to city and county officials for desperately needed water improvements.
The tiny city of Mortons Gap, Kentucky, got $109,000 to bring running water to six families who do not have it. The people of Martin County, whose water has been too contaminated to drink since a coal slurry spill two decades ago, got $411,000. The checks bear Beshear’s signature, but the money comes from the federal government, part of a huge infusion of coronavirus relief aid that is helping to fuel record budget surpluses in Kentucky and many other states.
Therein lies a Washington controversy. The funds, which Congress approved at a moment when the pandemic was still raging, are allowed to be used for far broader purposes than combating the virus, including water projects like those in Kentucky. Most states will get another round of “fiscal recovery funds” — part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — next month.
But in Washington, Biden is out of money to pay for the most basic means of protecting people during the pandemic: medications, vaccines, testing and reimbursement for care. Republicans have refused to sign off on new spending, citing the state recovery funds as an example of money that could be repurposed for urgent national priorities.
Thousands of workers return home as Malaysia fully reopens
Thousands of Malaysians working in Singapore returned home Friday as Malaysia fully reopened its borders after more than two years of pandemic closure.
Many had lined up at the border since late Thursday and crossed over at midnight on foot or by car and motorcycles. National news agency Bernama said fireworks can be heard in the background along with shouts of “welcome back” as families waited for their loved ones at the Johor Causeway linking the countries.
The Malaysia-Singapore land border, one of the busiest in the world, was partially reopened Nov. 29 but it was limited to only about 1,500 people one-way daily with strict rules. More than 350,000 people crossed the causeway daily before it was shut, mostly Malaysians working in Singapore.
Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said in a statement that more than 11,000 travelers passed through the checkpoints early Friday. Malaysian officials estimate some 400,000 people are expected to cross the border within the first week.
COVID ticks up in Tokyo; BA.2 subvariant accounts for 52.3% of new cases
The BA.2 omicron subvariant accounted for 52.3% of the new coronavirus cases in Tokyo in the seven days from March 15 to March 21, according to estimates by the metropolitan government.
The percentage has been increasing and is expected to continue rising, with experts saying that the subvariant is a contributing factor in the recent surge in coronavirus cases.
Since the end of January, the metropolitan government has been conducting tests to identify BA.2 cases, which accounted for 39.6% of coronavirus infections in the seven-day period that ended March 14 and 17.8% the week before that.
The metropolitan government’s results indicate that BA.1, which had been dominant until recently, is being rapidly replaced by BA.2, which is thought to be 1.2 times more contagious than BA.1.
Number of COVID patients in US hospitals reaches record low
COVID-19 hospitalization numbers have plunged to their lowest levels since the early days of the pandemic, offering a much needed break to health care workers and patients alike following the omicron surge.
The number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus has fallen more than 90% in more than two months, and some hospitals are going days without a single COVID-19 patient in the ICU for the first time since early 2020.
The freed up beds are expected to help U.S. hospitals retain exhausted staff, treat non-COVID-19 patients more quickly and cut down on inflated costs. More family members can visit loved ones. And doctors hope to see a correction to the slide in pediatric visits, yearly checkups and cancer screenings.
“We should all be smiling that the number of people sitting in the hospital right now with COVID, and people in intensive care units with COVID, are at this low point,” said University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi.
Stocks hold steady; treasury yields leap after jobs data
Stocks are holding steady on Wall Street Friday, and Treasury yields are jumping after a healthy report on the U.S. job market strengthened expectations for coming interest-rate hikes.
The S&P 500 was 0.1% higher after the first few minutes of trading and close to erasing its losses from earlier in the week. The index could clinch its first three-week winning streak since November. Markets worldwide have calmed recently, though sharp price swings have remained as worries continue about high inflation, higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve and the economic effects of the war in Ukraine.
Yields jumped after a U.S. government report showed employers added 431,000 jobs last month. That was slightly below economists’ expectations for 477,500, but the report also revised earlier months’ data to reflect more strength. It showed raises for workers accelerated last month but at a slower pace than overall inflation, while the unemployment rate improved to 3.6% from 3.7%.
“You can see the worries about COVID fading. Fewer people are working remotely. Fewer people are saying they can’t work due to the pandemic," said Brian Jacobsen, senior investment strategist at Allspring Global Investments.
State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 691 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 886 on Thursday. It also reported 32 more deaths over those days.
The update brings the state's totals to 1,456,264 cases and 12,510 deaths, meaning that 0.86% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
DOH is still experiencing delays in reporting COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by slowdowns in their data systems during the Omicron surge, according to the health agency.
In addition, 59,295 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 63 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 374,494 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,681 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,222,306 doses and 67% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 4,040 vaccine shots per day.
The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.
Got a dime? Businesses seek Treasury help with coin shortage
Got a dime you can spare? Coins are in short supply — again.
Retailers, laundromats and other businesses that rely on coins want Americans to empty their piggy banks and look under couch cushions for extra change and “get coin moving.”
A group of trade associations that represent individual businesses including banks, retail outlets, truck stops, grocery stores and more is asking the Treasury Department for more help convincing Americans to get coins back in circulation.
The consequences of the circulation slowdown hit people who don’t have an ability to pay for items electronically, they say.
“If retailers are not able to offer change for cash purchases consumers who rely on cash will be vulnerable,” the associations said in a letter to Treasury.
This is not the first time during the pandemic that the issue of low coin circulation has arisen.
The coronavirus disrupted consumers’ buying habits and shifted purchases largely to plastic cards to such an extent that in July 2020, the Federal Reserve restricted coin orders by financial institutions.
COVID-19 asylum limits at US-Mexico border to end May 23
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that it is ending a policy that limited asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The use of public health powers had been widely criticized by Democrats and immigration advocates as an excuse for the United States to shirk its obligations to provide haven to people fleeing persecution. The policy went into effect under President Donald Trump in March 2020. Since then, migrants trying to enter the U.S. have been expelled more than 1.7 million times.
The policy, known as the Title 42 authority, named for a 1944 public health law to prevent communicable disease, will end on paper, but it will not take effect until May 23, to allow border officials time to prepare. The Associated Press first reported the change earlier this week.
The policy was increasingly hard to justify scientifically as restrictions ended across the U.S.
5 myths and misconceptions about remote work, debunked
According to the Pew Research Center, only 23% of workers in jobs that could be done from home were frequently working remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, that number peaked at 71% and is currently at 59%. While a majority of those workers early in the pandemic said they were working from home because their offices were closed, the proportion has flipped, and now the majority say they’re working from home because they want to.
Remote work has evolved from a rare ad hoc accommodation to a preferred way of life. But still misconceptions persist, including the ideas that remote work makes it too hard to manage and measure performance, in-person work is crucial for innovation and that truly committed workers will want to return to the office.
US consumers still confident, but outlook not as rosy
U.S. consumer confidence bounced back in March and remains high, though consumers’ short-term outlook is not quite as rosy.
The Conference Board, a business research group, said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index — which takes into account consumers’ assessment of current conditions and their outlook for the future — rose to 107.2 in March from 105.7 in February.
The board’s present situation index, which measures consumers’ assessment of current business and labor conditions, also rose this month to 153 from 143 in February.
However, the expectations index, based on consumers’ six-month outlook for income, business and labor market conditions, declined to 76.6 from 80.8 in February. Respondents cited higher prices — particularly gas prices — and the war in Ukraine as the biggest factors.
The proportion of people planning to purchase homes, automobiles, and major appliances over the next six months all fell as interest rates have risen, the Conference Board said.
Pregnant people at much higher risk of breakthrough COVID-19, study shows
Pregnant people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus are nearly twice as likely to get COVID-19 as those who are not pregnant, according to a new study that offers the broadest evidence to date of the odds of infections among vaccinated patients with different medical circumstances.
The analysis, based on medical records of nearly 14 million U.S. patients since coronavirus immunization became available, found that pregnant people who are vaccinated have the greatest risk of developing COVID compared to a dozen medical states, including being an organ transplant recipient and having cancer.
The findings come on top of research showing that people who are pregnant or gave birth recently and became infected are especially prone to getting seriously ill from COVID-19. And COVID has been found to increase the risk of pregnancy complications, such as premature births.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been urging people to get coronavirus shots before or during pregnancy, seeking to dispel fear — widespread in some communities, without scientific basis — that those vaccinations could be harmful. As of March, nearly 70% of people who were pregnant have been vaccinated before or during their pregnancy, according to federal data, though disparities persist among racial and ethnic groups.
Shanghai moves to 2nd part of lockdown as testing lines grow
About 16 million residents in Shanghai are being tested for the coronavirus during the second stage of the lockdown that shifted Friday to the western half of China’s biggest city and financial capital.
Meanwhile, residents of Shanghai’s eastern districts who were supposed to be released from four days of isolation have been told their lockdowns could be extended if COVID-19 cases are found in their residential compounds.
The lockdown in Shanghai, being done in two phases over eight days to enable testing of its entire population, has shaken global markets worried about the possible economic impact. China’s manufacturing activity fell to a five-month low in March, a monthly survey showed, as lockdowns and other restrictions forced factories to suspend production.
For four days starting Friday, residents of Puxi on the west side of the Huangpu River dividing Shanghai cannot leave their neighborhoods or housing compounds. The gates at some compounds were locked from the outside, with groceries and meals delivered to collection points.
South Korea eases distancing amid slowing omicron spread
South Korea will ease some of its pandemic restrictions starting next week as officials express cautious hope the worst of its omicron outbreak has passed.
The limit on private social gatherings will be raised from eight to 10 people starting Monday, while restaurants, bars and other indoor spaces can stay open an hour later, until midnight, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Friday.
Officials said most social distancing restrictions could be removed, except for an indoor mask mandate, if the outbreak further slows and the medical response remains stable over the next two weeks.
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