Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, April 15, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Washington officials aren’t ready to reinstate indoor mask mandates, despite a recent slight rise in COVID cases, but they’re monitoring the situation. Pfizer said Thursday it wants to expand its COVID-19 booster shots to cover healthy elementary-age kids.
Meanwhile, Americans who adopted pets when they were on COVID lockdown are now giving up those animals in large numbers, flooding animal shelters and rescue groups.
While unemployment claims ticked up last week, they remained historically low, showcasing the strength of the U.S. labor market two years after the pandemic triggered a brief but devastating recession.
In Africa, the number of COVID cases and deaths have dropped to their lowest levels since the pandemic began.
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.
Shanghai’s COVID siege: Food shortages, talking robots, starving animals
For weeks, China’s most populous city, Shanghai, has been under strict lockdown orders in an effort to control a coronavirus outbreak. Its 25 million residents have been trapped at home, struggling to feed themselves or get medical help for sick family members. Others have been corralled into makeshift quarantine centers and temporary hospitals, unsure when they will be allowed to leave.
Li Moyin, 34, was among those restricted to their homes. She lives with her parents, both in their 70s, in the Putuo district of Shanghai, where she has been confined since March 27, working as a part-time translator and trying to secure enough groceries for their household. For Li, who grew up in Shanghai, seeing the once-bustling financial hub — which residents previously believed was a model for balancing COVID prevention measures with normal life — turn into a ghost town has been unsettling.
Talking over text and video calls with her boyfriend under lockdown elsewhere in the city, Li has spent hours debating whether such drastic measures are necessary, especially when the majority of Shanghai’s cases are patients without severe symptoms. Li’s boyfriend — who is from Wuhan, where COVID was first detected and 11 million people experienced an unprecedented 76-day lockdown — argued in favor of the swift and harsh lockdowns.
The prospect of a long lockdown has started to take an emotional toll. One video shared widely shows residents of a large apartment compound in Putuo screaming from their balconies. In the video, a bystander can be heard saying, “That whole building is screaming. … What’s the root problem? People don’t know how long this situation will last.”
Under government rules, the almost 300,000 residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus since early March and their close contacts must be sent to mass quarantine centers or to hospitals, depending on the severity of their symptoms.
Even in Seattle, pandemic threw cold water on moving plans
As most of the country went into lockdown, there was a lot of talk of folks leaving big cities for more remote, rural areas. And that certainly happened. But overall, Americans moved less, not more, during the pandemic.
Migration data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that only around 8% of Americans changed address from March 2020 to March 2021, the smallest share ever recorded since migration records were first collected in 1947.
Now, new data shows that even in most of the nation’s largest metro areas, including Seattle, the pandemic put a damper on moving plans.
S. Korea to remove most virus restrictions as omicron slows
South Korea will remove most pandemic restrictions, including indoor gathering limits, as it slowly wiggles out of an omicron outbreak officials say is stabilizing.
People will still be required to wear masks indoors, but authorities could remove an outdoor mask mandate if the coronavirus further slows over the next two weeks, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said in a government briefing Friday.
Starting next week, authorities will remove a 10-person limit on private social gatherings and lift a midnight curfew at restaurants, coffee shops and other indoor businesses. Officials will also remove a ban on large political rallies and other events involving 300 or more people.
People will be allowed to eat inside movie theaters, religious facilities, bus terminals and train stations starting on April 25.
The new measures were announced as the country reported 125,846 new cases of the coronavirus, continuing a weekslong downward trend after infections peaked in mid-March. The country’s one-day record was 621,187 on March 17.
State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,512 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 1,329 on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 1,474,548 cases and 12,619 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. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
DOH on Friday said data may be incomplete due to a mechanical issue in their data systems. A full update is expected on Monday.
In addition, 59,681 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 384,135 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,708 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,422,263 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 13,108 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.
The push to vaccinate kids is stalling in U.S., and that poses new COVID dangers
Despite months of outreach and on-the-ground efforts, the COVID-19 vaccination campaign for young children remains stuck in neutral — prompting experts to say more needs to be done to inform parents about the benefits of inoculation.
In California, just 34% of children age 5 to 11 have completed their primary vaccination series, compared with 66% of youths age 12 to 17, according to state health data compiled by The Times.
By contrast, 78% of younger adults up to age 49 have completed their primary vaccination series, while at least 83% of older adults have done so.
“Getting vaccinated and boosted continues to be one of the most important steps all of us can take to protect ourselves and others from COVID,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told reporters during a recent briefing.
New, highly transmissible forms of omicron may pose latest COVID threat
Disease trackers are monitoring the spread of new, highly transmissible versions of the omicron variant in New York state and Europe, the latest evidence of the coronavirus’ ability to overhaul its genetic profile and pose a fresh threat.
It is too soon to predict how far the new subvariants might spread and how sick they might make people, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
“When you look at what’s happening right now and try to tell the story of what might occur, you’re challenged,” he said. For now, scientists are left “watching and learning,” Osterholm added.
The first communities in the United States that have said they are contending with the new omicron subvariants are in central New York, around Syracuse and Lake Ontario.
New York state officials this week announced that two new omicron subvariants, dubbed BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, have become the dominant forms of the coronavirus in the central part of the state. For weeks, infection rates in central New York have been at least twice the state average, according to data from the state health department.
States scale back food stamp benefits even as prices soar
Month by month, more of the roughly 40 million Americans who get help buying groceries through the federal food stamp program are seeing their benefits plunge even as the nation struggles with the biggest increase in food costs in decades.
The payments to low-income individuals and families are dropping as governors end COVID-19 disaster declarations and opt out of an ongoing federal program that made their states eligible for dramatic increases in SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. The U.S. Department of Agriculture began offering the increased benefit in April 2020 in response to surging unemployment after the COVID-19 pandemic swept over the country.
The result is that depending on the politics of a state, individuals and families in need find themselves eligible for significantly different levels of help buying food.
Nebraska took the most aggressive action anywhere in the country, ending the emergency benefits four months into the pandemic in July 2020 in a move Republican Gov. Pete Rickett said was necessary to “show the rest of the country how to get back to normal.”
Since then, nearly a dozen states with Republican leadership have taken similar action, with Iowa this month being the most recent place to slash the benefits. Benefits also will be cut in Wyoming and Kentucky in the next month. Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Tennessee have also scaled back the benefits.
Republican leaders argue that the extra benefits were intended to only temporarily help people forced out of work by the pandemic. Now that the virus has eased, they maintain, there is no longer a need to offer the higher payments at a time when businesses in most states are struggling to find enough workers.
It’s not over: COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in US
Yet again, the U.S. is trudging into what could be another COVID-19 surge, with cases rising nationally and in most states after a two-month decline.
One big unknown? “We don’t know how high that mountain’s gonna grow,” said Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University.
No one expects a peak nearly as high as the last one, when the contagious omicron version of the coronavirus ripped through the population.
But experts warn that the coming wave – caused by a mutant called BA.2 that’s thought to be about 30% more contagious – will wash across the nation. They worry that hospitalizations, which are already ticking up in some parts of the Northeast, will rise in a growing number of states in the coming weeks. And the case wave will be bigger than it looks, they say, because reported numbers are vast undercounts as more people test at home without reporting their infections or skip testing altogether.
At the height of the previous omicron surge, reported daily cases reached into the hundreds of thousands. As of Thursday, the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose to 39,521, up from 30,724 two weeks earlier, according to data from Johns Hopkins collected by The Associated Press.
Anti-virus shutdowns in China spread as infections rise
Anti-virus controls that have shut down some of China’s biggest cities and fueled public irritation are spreading as infections rise, hurting a weak economy and prompting warnings of possible global shockwaves.
Shanghai is easing rules that confined most of its 25 million people to their homes after complaints they had trouble getting food. But most of its businesses still are closed.
Spring planting by Chinese farmers who feed 1.4 billion people might be disrupted, Nomura economists warned Thursday. That could boost demand for imported wheat and other food, pushing up already high global prices.
The closures are an embarrassment to the ruling Communist Party and a setback for official efforts to shore up slumping growth in the world’s second-largest economy. They come during a sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader.
Beijing has promised to reduce the human and economic cost of its “zero-COVID” strategy, but Xi this week ruled out joining the United States and other governments that are dropping restrictions and trying to live with the virus.
Americans giving back pandemic pups, flooding shelters, rescue groups
The frustration jumped off the Instagram page:
“I have never ever seen this many people trying to dump their dogs,” posted Jessica Mellen-Graaf of the Philly Bully Team dog rescue.
Already swamped, her rescue team had received 20 requests in 48 hours from owners who wanted to give up their dogs.
“We knew this could happen,” she said. “I just don’t think we thought it was going to be this bad.”
In the early months of COVID-19, the near-emptying of the nation’s animal shelters was one of the few bright spots in a dark time. Data from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggested that more than 23 million American households acquired a pet during the pandemic.
But pandemic restrictions receded, and many people began returning to the workplace or found that COVID has otherwise altered their circumstances.
Animal advocates are now scrambling to find volunteers to foster homeless dogs. Fewer people want to adopt. And local organizations say they’re inundated with requests from owners to unload dogs they no longer want.
Pet rescues and shelters help people giving up pets due to hardship, but advocates say a lot of the surrenders they’re seeing now are a different story: COVID dogs that somebody bought and now don’t want to deal with anymore.
California delays coronavirus vaccine mandate for schools
California is sticking with its coronavirus vaccine mandate for schoolchildren, but it won’t happen until at least the summer of 2023, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration announced Thursday.
Last year, California was the first state to announce it would require all schoolchildren to receive the coronavirus vaccine. But it hasn’t happened yet because Newsom said he was waiting for regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to give final approval to the vaccine for school-aged children.
At the time, Newsom estimated the mandate would take effect for the start of the 2022-23 school year. But while federal regulators have authorized use of the coronavirus vaccine for children as young as 5 in an emergency, it has still not given final approval to anyone younger than 16.
FDA authorizes 1st breath test for COVID-19 infection
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued an emergency use authorization for what it said is the first device that can detect COVID-19 in breath samples.
The InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer is about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage, the FDA said, and can be used in doctor’s offices, hospitals and mobile testing sites. The test, which can provide results in less than three minutes, must be carried out under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.
The FDA said the device was 91.2% accurate at identifying positive test samples and 99.3% accurate at identifying negative test samples.
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