Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, April 13, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Schools across America are racing to make up for time they lost during the pandemic by budgeting billions of dollars for tutoring, summer camps and longer school days and trying to untangle which students need help most urgently after two years of disruptions. Data gathering by some of the country’s biggest school districts confirm what many had feared: Groups of students that already faced learning gaps before the pandemic, including Black and Hispanic students and those from low-income families, appear to be behind in even greater numbers now.
2021 was the deadliest year in U.S. history, with 3.465 million deaths — about 80,000 more than 2020’s record-setting total — according to preliminary death statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though COVID-19 deaths rose to more than 415,000, up from 351,000 the year before, the coronavirus is not solely to blame. Preliminary CDC data also shows the crude death rate for cancer rose slightly, and rates continued to increase for diabetes, chronic liver disease and stroke. Drug overdose deaths also continued to rise, with provisional data through October suggesting the nation is on track to see at least 105,000 overdose deaths in 2021 — up from 93,000 the year before.
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.
China’s ‘zero-COVID’ mess proves autocracy hurts everyone
Long before the “zero COVID” policy, China had a “zero sparrow” policy.
In the spring of 1958, the Chinese government mobilized the entire nation to exterminate sparrows, which Mao declared pests that destroyed crops. All over China, people banged on pots and pans, lit firecrackers and waved flags to prevent the birds from landing so they would fall and die from exhaustion. By one estimation, nearly 2 billion sparrows were killed nationwide within months.
The near extinction of sparrows led to insect infestations, which ruined crops and contributed to the Great Famine that starved tens of millions of Chinese to death in the next three years.
The fear in China now is that the “zero COVID” policy has become another Mao-style political campaign that is based on the will of one person, the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping — and that it could end up hurting everyone.
Just as Mao and his lieutenants ignored the opposition to their anti-sparrow policy from scientists and technocrats, Beijing has ignored experts’ advice that China abandon its costly strategy and learn to coexist with the virus, especially a milder, if more infectious, variant.
As the omicron variant spreads, about 373 million people in 45 Chinese cities are under either full or partial lockdowns as of Monday, according to estimates by economists at the investment bank Nomura. These cities account for 26% of China’s population and 40% of its economic output, they wrote; they warned that the risk of recession was rising as local governments competed to ratchet up virus-containment measures.
Beijing is now urging local governments to strike a balance between pandemic control and economic production. But everyone in the bureaucratic system knows where the priority lies.
WA Board of Health votes against adding COVID vaccines to K-12 school-required immunizations
COVID-19 vaccines will not be required for students to attend K-12 schools in Washington this fall, the state Board of Health decided in a unanimous vote Wednesday afternoon.
The issue has divided many school communities over the past year and made its way to the Board of Health’s radar last fall, when the board created a separate technical advisory group tasked with researching whether a COVID vaccine would meet all the scientific criteria needed to be added to the list of required K-12 immunizations.
Shortly after noon Wednesday, the board approved the group’s recommendation, effectively putting an end to the discussion for now.
State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 756 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 1,138 on Tuesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 1,471,754 cases and 12,589 deaths, meaning that 0.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
In addition, 59,627 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 382,597 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,699 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,384,542 doses and 67.7% 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 13,193 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.
With aid to spend, schools look for students who need help
Schools across America are racing to make up for time they lost during the pandemic by budgeting billions of dollars for tutoring, summer camps and longer school days and trying to untangle which students need help most urgently after two years of disruptions.
Many schools saw large numbers of students fall under the radar when learning went online for the pandemic. Many skipped class, tests and homework. Record numbers of families opted out of annual standardized tests, leaving some districts with little evidence of how students were doing in reading and math.
Now districts are trying to address that lack of information by adding new tests, training teachers to spot learning gaps and exploring new ways to identify students who need help. In many districts, the findings are being used to guide the spending of billions of dollars in federal relief that’s meant to address learning loss and can be used in myriad ways.
WHO: COVID cases and deaths fall for 3rd consecutive week
The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths reported to the World Health Organization fell for a third consecutive week, a trend likely helped by the dismantling of testing and surveillance programs.
In its latest weekly report on the pandemic, issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the more than 7 million new cases reported represented a 24% decline from a week earlier. The weekly worldwide number of COVID-19 deaths, was down 18%, at over 22,000.
WHO said the decreases “should be interpreted with caution” as numerous countries where the virus is starting to subside have changed their testing strategies, meaning far fewer cases are being identified.
New cases and deaths are falling in every region of the world, including the Western Pacific, where a surge of infections has triggered severe lockdown measures in China.
Shanghai releases more from virus observation amid lockdown
Shanghai released 6,000 more people from the central facilities where they were under medical observation to guard against the coronavirus, the government said Wednesday, though the lockdown of most of China’s largest city was continuing in its third week.
About 6.6 million people in the city of 25 million were allowed to leave their homes Tuesday, but some were restricted to their own neighborhoods. Some housing compounds also appeared to still be keeping residents locked inside, and no further lifting of restrictions was apparent Wednesday.
Officials warn that Shanghai still doesn’t have its latest surge in cases of the omicron variant under control, despite its “zero-tolerance” approach that has seen some residents confined to their homes for three weeks or longer.
A 7-foot-tall robot at airport is watching for unmasked travelers and curbside loiterers
Yes, those 7-foot-tall machines at Dallas Love Field are watching you. They want to make sure you’re wearing a mask if you’re boarding a flight or not parking too long at the curb if you’re picking up a returning traveler.
Love Field is testing two Security Control Observation Towers at the airport, one near baggage claim and another near security checkpoints, to figure out whether robotic assistants can both help customers get around and warn passengers who are breaking rules. The robots can also call airport security and operations in case more help is needed.
While not quite “RoboCop,” the machines, nicknamed SCOT, were installed a month ago to “determine if they are capable of efficiently supplementing current airport operations,” said Love Field spokesperson Lauren Rounds.
The robots look like many other kiosks at the airport with a touch screen, including wayfinding information, maps of parking garages and directions to ride-hailing and shuttle pickup. But SCOT is much smarter, capable of detecting what people are wearing and even whether they’ve got on a face mask.
Airports have been at the forefront of technology, including facial recognition and other biometrics, for years, a trend that worries privacy advocates who say there are few, if any, laws or guidelines about how emerging technology should be used.
CDC to extend travel mask requirement for 2 weeks
The Biden administration will extend for two weeks the nationwide mask requirement for public transit as it monitors an uptick in COVID-19 cases, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was set to extend the order, which was to expire on April 18, by two weeks to monitor for any observable increase in severe virus outcomes as cases rise in parts of the country. The move was being made out of abundance of caution, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the CDC’s action. The requirement will now extend through May 3, 2022.
When the Transportation Security Administration, which enforces the rule for planes, buses, trains and transit hubs, extended the requirement last month, it said the CDC had been hoping to roll out a more flexible masking strategy that would have replaced the nationwide requirement.
The mask mandate is the most visible vestige of government restrictions to control the pandemic, and possibly the most controversial. A surge of abusive and sometimes violent incidents on airplanes has been attributed mostly to disputes over mask-wearing.
A million empty spaces: Chronicling COVID’s cruel US toll
On the deadliest day of a horrific week in April 2020, COVID took the lives of 816 people in New York City alone. Lost in the blizzard of pandemic data that’s been swirling ever since is the fact that 43-year-old Fernando Morales was one of them.
Two years and nearly 1 million deaths later, his brother, Adam Almonte, fingers the bass guitar Morales left behind and visualizes him playing tunes, a treasured blue bucket hat pulled low over his eyes. Walking through a park overlooking the Hudson River, he recalls long-ago days tossing a baseball with Morales and sharing tuna sandwiches. He replays old messages just to hear Morales’ voice.
“When he passed away it was like I lost a brother, a parent and a friend all at the same time,” says Almonte, 16 years younger than Morales, who shared his love of books, video games and wrestling, and worked for the city processing teachers’ pensions. “I used to call him just any time I was going through something difficult and I needed reassurance, knowing he would be there… That’s an irreplaceable type of love.”
If losing one person leaves such a lasting void, consider all that’s been lost with the deaths of 1 million.
Soon, likely in the next few weeks, the U.S. toll from the coronavirus will surpass that once unthinkable milestone. Yet after a two-year drumbeat of deaths, even 1 million can feel abstract.
COVID cases rise in Northeast as BA.2 omicron subvariant takes hold
Coronavirus cases are again climbing in the Northeast as the BA.2 omicron subvariant — which is even more contagious than its predecessor — becomes the predominant strain in the United States.
But experts say early signs suggest Americans do not need to fear a repeat of the explosion of winter cases that overwhelmed the health care system and led to mass disruptions across the economy as millions fell ill at once.
The Northeast recorded at least 126 new infections per 100,000 people last week, double the rate one month ago. It’s still far short of the 2,200 cases per 100,000 people recorded during the mid-January peak in the Northeast, amid the omicron surge. New infections in the Northeast were more than twice as high as in the West, Midwest and southeast last week, according to federal data.
It remains to be seen whether the latest uptick in the Northeast is the start of a larger surge or if it reflects a smaller bump on the road to recovery from the punishing omicron wave.
What do we know about ‘stealth omicron’ so far?
What do we know about “stealth omicron” so far?
It’s an extra-contagious version of the omicron variant, but it doesn’t seem to cause more severe disease.
Since it was first identified in November, BA.2 has been spreading around the globe, driving new surges in parts of Asia and Europe. It’s now the dominant coronavirus version in the U.S. and more than five dozen other countries.
It was given the “stealth” nickname because it looks like the earlier delta variant on certain PCR tests, says Kristen Coleman at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. The original omicron, by contrast, is easy to differentiate from delta because of a genetic quirk.
In rare cases, early research indicates BA.2 can infect people even if they’ve already had an omicron infection. COVID-19 vaccines appear just as effective against both kinds of omicron, offering strong protection against severe illness and death.
Health officials also are tracking other variants including XE — a combination of BA.2 and BA.1, the original omicron — that was first identified in January in the United Kingdom. The World Health Organization is keeping tabs on XE but has not yet deemed it a variant of concern or interest.
Arizona man in $3.5M pandemic loan fraud case gets 4 years
An Arizona man faces four years in prison after pleading guilty to falsely claiming non-existent employees and business revenues when applying for $3.5 million in federal pandemic relief loans in 2020. Officials said he used some of the money to buy a Porsche and a home.
The sentence imposed last Thursday for James Theodore Polzin, 48, of the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert included an order for him to pay over $2.2 million in restitution.
According to federal officials, Polzin used a portion of the proceeds of the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster loans for his own personal benefit, including the car and home purchases, and for “stashing money offshore.”
Polzin pleaded guilty last fall to wire fraud and transactional money laundering.
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