Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, April 12, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 decision to shut down COVID-19 testing centers across many U.S. states has raised concerns over the inability to properly monitor outbreaks.
People in regions without testing centers have relied on rapid at-home test kits, but positive tests are rarely reported to local health agencies.
Meanwhile, as some countries struggle to provide equitable vaccine access, Germany’s health ministry announced it may have to dispose of 3 million expired COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of June.
COVAX, a United Nations backed program working to distribute vaccines to poorer countries, is not accepting donations at the moment, according to a health ministry spokesperson.
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.
Should the U.S. lift its COVID test entry rule? Five health experts weigh in
One of the biggest logistical headaches for international travelers — the requirement to test negative for the coronavirus within a day of flying into the United States — appears to be sticking around.
“There are no plans to change the international travel requirements at this point,” outgoing White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing last week. The White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had no updates when contacted by The Washington Post on Monday.
But travelers and industry groups are eager to shake the rule as other countries drop theirs, or at least find out how long it will be enforced. During a recent Washington Post live chat about travel, more than 20 questions were submitted about the testing requirement. The rule applies to all air travelers entering the United States, including citizens, residents and people who are vaccinated.
Travel and business groups sent a letter to new White House coronavirus czar Ashish Jha on Friday calling on the government, as they have for months, to drop the pre-departure testing rule for international flights into the country.
“Pre-departure testing is no longer an effective measure in protecting the United States from COVID-19,” says the letter from the U.S. Travel Association, Airlines for America, American Hotel and Lodging Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “While providing little health benefit, this requirement discourages travel by imposing an additional cost and the fear of being stranded overseas.”
The groups also asked for the federal mask mandate for transportation to be dropped; authorities have extended it through at least April 18. Meanwhile, data tracked by The Washington Post shows U.S. cases are rising again after dropping sharply following the omicron surge.
Visitors who are not U.S. citizens or immigrants need to be fully vaccinated to enter the country. Air travelers who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 90 days don’t need to provide a negative test if they have documentation of recovery from the virus.
Queen chats with COVID-19 patients, nurses at UK hospital
Queen Elizabeth II, after her own recent bout with COVID-19, empathized with patients, doctors and nurses at a London hospital last week as she listened to their stories about life on the front lines of the pandemic.
The monarch spoke to patients and staff at the Royal London Hospital during a virtual visit that marked the official dedication of the Queen Elizabeth Unit, a 155-bed critical care facility built in just five weeks at the height of the pandemic. Elizabeth tested positive for COVID-19 in February and suffered what Buckingham Palace described as “mild cold-like symptoms.’’
“It does leave one very tired and exhausted, doesn’t it?’’ she told recovering COVID-19 patient Asef Hussain and his wife, Shamina. “This horrible pandemic.”
The unit has treated about 800 coronavirus patients from across northeast London, with staff recruited from throughout the region, including retired doctors and nurses and even soldiers drafted in to help.
CVS, feds reach agreement on vaccine portal accessibility
CVS Pharmacy has reached a settlement with federal prosecutors that will ensure the company’s online vaccination scheduling portal remains fully accessible to people with disabilities, officials said Monday.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Rhode Island alleged the company, which operates nearly 10,000 retail pharmacies nationwide, was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because the portal was not accessible to people who use screen reader software designed for the visually impaired, and to those who have difficulty using a mouse.
For example, a federal investigation found that the types of vaccine appointments offered, including COVID-19, influenza and pneumonia, were not read to screen reader users, prosecutors said.
“While web accessibility is always important, when it comes to critical health services like COVID-19 vaccination, making sure that everyone — regardless of disability — can access information and care is essential,” U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island Zachary Cunha said in a statement. “This office is committed to vigorously enforcing the ADA to eliminate unnecessary barriers that stand in the way of lifesaving care.”
Tying shoes, opening bottles: Pandemic kids lack basic life skills
In a normal year, up to half of Christine Jarboe’s first-graders start school knowing how to tie their shoelaces.
But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, school hasn’t been normal for more than two years. So when Jarboe welcomed a fresh crop of Virginia first-graders to her classroom this fall for their first full year of in-person learning, she made a disturbing discovery.
“You’d say, ‘OK, can you show me how to tie your shoes?’ and most of them would just kind of look at me, like, really confused,” Jarboe said. “They really weren’t sure even where to start.”
It was one of many “missing skills” that Jarboe discovered among her students over the course of the semester. She expected them to show up behind where they should be in academic categories such as reading. But what she hadn’t counted on was that her children would prove unable to do things such as cutting along a dotted line with scissors. Or squeeze a glue bottle to release an appropriately sized dot. Or simply twist a plastic cap off and on.
Teachers around the country shared that they were confronting similar problems. Online learning left children, on average, four months behind in mathematics and reading before this school year, according to a McKinsey and Company study released in early April.
But children of the pandemic also are missing a more basic tool kit of behaviors, life skills and strategies, including tying their shoelaces, taking turns on the playground slide and sitting still in their chairs for hours at a time.
COVID-19, overdoses pushed US to highest death total ever
2021 was the deadliest year in U.S. history, and new data and research are offering more insights into how it got that bad.
The main reason for the increase in deaths? COVID-19, said Robert Anderson, who oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s work on death statistics.
The agency this month quietly updated its provisional death tally. It showed there were 3.465 million deaths last year, or about 80,000 more than 2020’s record-setting total.
Early last year, some experts were optimistic that 2021 would not be as bad as the first year of the pandemic — partly because effective COVID-19 vaccines had finally become available.
“We were wrong, unfortunately,” said Noreen Goldman, a Princeton University researcher.
COVID-19 deaths rose in 2021 — to more than 415,000, up from 351,000 the year before — as new coronavirus variants emerged and an unexpectedly large numbers of Americans refused to get vaccinated or were hesitant to wear masks, experts said.
Drug overdose deaths also continued to rise, with a particularly large jump in overdose deaths among 14- to 18-year-olds. Provisional data through October suggests the nation is on track to see at least 105,000 overdose deaths in 2021 — up from 93,000 the year before.
Mask rule for planes and trains could soon be zapped
The federal requirement to wear face masks on airplanes and public transportation is scheduled to expire next week, and airline executives and Republican lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to let the mandate die.
The fate of the rule — and consideration of an alternate “framework” of moves to limit the spread of COVID-19 — was under discussion Monday within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Officials described it as a close call.
“This is a decision that the CDC Director Dr. (Rochelle) Walensky is going to make,” White House coronavirus-policy adviser Dr. Ashish Jha said Monday. “I know the CDC is working on developing a scientific framework for how to answer that. We are going to see that framework come out I think in the next few days.”
Jha said that extending mask mandate again is “on the table.”
The administration gave the rule a one-month reprieve in March so that public-health officials would have time to develop alternative methods of limiting the transmission of COVID-19 during travel.
Johnson, Treasury chief to be fined over lockdown parties
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said Tuesday that he and Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak will be fined by police for breaching COVID-19 regulations following allegations of lockdown parties at government offices.
The news came after London’s Metropolitan Police force said earlier Tuesday that they were issuing 30 more fixed penalty notices in relation to the “partygate” scandal, which has angered many in Britain and seen dozens of politicians and officials investigated over allegations that the government flouted its own pandemic restrictions.
“The Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices,” a spokesperson for Johnson’s office said. “We have no further details.”
It was not clear how much Johnson and Sunak were fined. Johnson’s wife, Carrie Johnson, also said she was notified that she will receive a fine, though she has not yet received any details about it.
Shanghai eases 2-week shutdown, letting some residents out
Some residents of Shanghai were allowed out of their homes as the city of 25 million eased a two-week-old shutdown Tuesday after a video posted online showed what was said to be people who ran out of food breaking into a supermarket.
About 6.6 million people can go outdoors, but some must stay in their own neighborhoods, the online news outlet The Paper reported, citing city officials. The government said some markets and pharmacies would reopen.
A health official warned Shanghai doesn’t have the virus under control despite easing restrictions.
“The epidemic is in a period of rapid growth,” said Lei Zhenglong of the National Health Commission at a news conference. “Community transmission has not been effectively contained.”
The abrupt closure of most businesses starting March 28 and orders to stay home left the public fuming about lack of access to food and medicine. People who test positive for the virus are forced into sprawling temporary quarantine facilities criticized by some as crowded and unsanitary.
Tracking COVID’s unequal, unpredictable toll across Washington state
For most of the pandemic, coronavirus surges followed a now-familiar pattern.
Cases rose first, then a few weeks later, hospitalizations followed. And after a month or so, deaths rose, too.
But during the most recent wave, fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, something changed. Not only were reinfections and breakthrough infections more common than before, the data also showed the death rate bucked the trend.
Infections and hospitalizations soared, yet the number of deaths remained relatively low. At the peak of the delta wave last summer, the death rate was 12% lower than the hospitalization rate. During omicron, it was 20% lower.
A recent Seattle Times analysis of the state’s COVID-19 death data also found that omicron’s surge hit some parts of the state harder than others, including in Southwestern and Eastern Washington, where factors like levels of immunity, weather, behavioral differences and socioeconomic status, among others, could have played a part in transmission.
While deaths did rise during the omicron surge — more than 2,000 Washingtonians died between mid-December and mid-February — they increased at a much slower rate than during the delta wave.
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