Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, April 14, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
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.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced that it is extending the nationwide mask requirement for airplanes and public transit for 15 days as it monitors an uptick in COVID-19 cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was extending the order, which was set to expire on April 18, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant that is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S.
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.
Many coronavirus cases go uncounted. Are there better ways to track the pandemic?
When the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus arrived in the United States last fall, it pushed new case numbers to previously unseen peaks.
Even then, the record wave of recorded infections was a significant undercount of reality.
In New York City, for example, officials logged more than 538,000 new cases between January and mid-March, representing roughly 6% of the city’s population. But a recent survey of New York adults suggests that there could have been more than 1.3 million additional cases that were either never detected or never reported — and that 27% of the city’s adults may have been infected during those months.
The official tally of coronavirus infections in the United States has always been an underestimate. But as Americans increasingly turn to at-home tests, states shutter mass testing sites and institutions cut back on surveillance testing, case counts are becoming an increasingly unreliable measure of the virus’ true toll, scientists say.
US jobless claims rise but remain near a half-century low
The number of people seeking unemployment benefits ticked up last week but remained at a historically low level, reflecting a robust U.S. labor market with near record-high job openings and few layoffs.
Jobless claims rose by 18,000 to 185,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, after nearly touching the lowest level since 1968 in the previous week. The four-week average of claims, which levels out week-to-week ups and downs, edged up from 170,000 to 172,000.
In Washington state, new initial claims for unemployment benefits jumped 9% to 4,708 for the week that ended April 9, from 4,313 the prior week, according to data from the federal Department of Labor. The Washington state Employment Security Department reports its own figures later Thursday; those often differ slightly from the federal numbers.
Two years after the coronavirus pandemic sent the economy into a brief but devastating recession, American workers are enjoying extraordinary job security. Weekly applications for unemployment aid, a proxy for layoffs, have remained consistently below the pre-pandemic level of 225,000.
Last year, employers added a record 6.7 million jobs, and they’ve added an average of 560,000 more each month so far in 2022. The unemployment rate, which soared to 14.7% in April 2020 in the depths of the COVID-19 recession, is now just 3.6%, barely above the lowest point in 50 years. And there is a record proportion of 1.7 job openings for every unemployed American.
Pfizer to seek COVID booster for healthy 5- to 11-year-olds
Pfizer said Thursday it wants to expand its COVID-19 booster shots to healthy elementary-age kids.
U.S. health authorities already urge everyone 12 and older to get one booster dose for the best protection against the newest variants — and recently gave the option of a second booster to those 50 and older. Now Pfizer says new data shows healthy 5- to 11-year-olds could benefit from another kid-sized shot.
In a small study, 140 youngsters who’d already gotten two shots were given a booster six months later, and researchers found the extra shot generally revved up their immune response. But a closer look at 30 of the children found a 36-fold increase in virus-fighting antibodies, levels high enough to fight the super-contagious omicron variant, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said in a press release.
As families grieve, grandparents step up
This is not what Ida Adams thought life would be like at 62.
She had planned to continue working as a housekeeper at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore until she turned 65. After retiring, she and her husband, Andre, also 62, thought they might travel a little — “get up and go whenever we felt like it.”
She did not expect to be hustling a seventh-grader off to school each weekday. But in January 2021, Ida Adams’ daughter, Kimya Lomax, died of COVID-19 at 43 after three weeks alone in a hospital with no visitors permitted. She left behind a young daughter.
Suddenly the girl, Kimiya, now 13, was accompanying her grandmother to a funeral home to help select a white coffin. “I wanted her to have a say in her mother’s homegoing,” Adams said.
In December, a coalition called the COVID Collaborative estimated that about 167,000 American children like Kimiya had lost a parent or primary caregiver to the pandemic, with much higher rates among communities of color. More recently, researchers at Imperial College London put the number of children who have lost one or both parents at nearly 200,000.
Grandparents have always been the first line of defense in the wake of such tragedies. The nonprofit Generations United reports that pre-pandemic, 2.6 million American children already lived in “grandfamilies,” raised by relatives for reasons ranging from military deployment and incarceration to deaths from substance abuse, other illnesses or accidents. Many more grandparents provide other kinds of support — child care, transportation, financial help — when a parent dies.
WHO: COVID cases, deaths in Africa drop to lowest levels yet
The number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Africa have dropped to their lowest levels since the pandemic began, marking the longest decline yet seen in the disease, according to the World Health Organization.
In a statement on Thursday, the U.N. health agency said COVID-19 infections due to the omicron surge had “tanked” from a peak of more than 308,000 weekly cases to fewer than 20,000 last week. Cases and deaths fell by 29% and 37% respectively in the last week; deaths decreased to 239 from the previous week.
Homeschooling surge continues despite schools reopening
The coronavirus pandemic ushered in what may be the most rapid rise in homeschooling the U.S. has ever seen. Two years later, even after schools reopened and vaccines became widely available, many parents have chosen to continue directing their children’s educations themselves.
Homeschooling numbers this year dipped from last year’s all-time high, but are still significantly above pre-pandemic levels, according to data obtained and analyzed by The Associated Press.
Families that may have turned to homeschooling as an alternative to hastily assembled remote learning plans have stuck with it — reasons include health concerns, disagreement with school policies and a desire to keep what has worked for their children.
In 18 states that shared data through the current school year, the number of homeschooling students increased by 63% in the 2020-2021 school year, then fell by only 17% in the 2021-2022 school year.
Around 3% of U.S. students were homeschooled before the pandemic-induced surge, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The rising numbers have cut into public school enrollment in ways that affect future funding and renewed debates over how closely homeschooling should be regulated. What remains unknown is whether this year’s small decrease signals a step toward pre-pandemic levels — or a sign that homeschooling is becoming more mainstream.
Outlook poses tough questions for next steps on COVID-19 vaccines
Preparations for another potential round of COVID-19 vaccines are prompting more questions than answers as federal health officials contend with the threat of future variants amid waning public interest in additional shots.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month OK’d a second round of boosters for anyone over 50 and certain people with compromised immune systems. But the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee last week debated whether more boosters for the broader public should be modeled off the original virus, or if scientists should create a unique vaccine series modeled off a newer variant.
The preparations will have potentially profound implications. Modeling vaccines on past variants may make them ineffective against a new variant. Complex recommendations on who should receive more shots may confuse the public message and add to booster fatigue. And officials must eventually decide what level of infection society can live with without continued boosting.
COVID cases are up slightly in WA. Will mask mandates come back?
It’s been about a month since Washington state lifted most indoor mask mandates. But a recent slight rise in infections raises a pressing question: At what point could those restrictions return?
Some sites, like the city of Philadelphia and several colleges, are announcing a return to indoor mask mandates as COVID-19 cases creep back up.
But our state isn’t quite there yet, according to Washington health officials and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
Infections have stayed relatively low in Washington since an omicron-fueled surge swept through this past winter, though data showing a small increase has emerged over the last few weeks, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID data dashboard. At the end of March, DOH reported a seven-day average of 535 daily cases, compared to 440 daily cases 10 days prior.
Still, the daily average is far from mid-January levels, when the state recorded an average of about 19,700 infections and 300 hospitalizations per day.
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