Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, April 17, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Remember last May? It’s OK, nobody really does — but that’s when the restaurant industry’s struggle to survive the COVID-19 era, combined with patrons thirsty for something to go with their takeout, prompted the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to temporarily allow the sale of carry-out cocktails. To-go cocktails are sticking around, at least through summer 2023.
Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation COVID-19 outbreak is beginning to slow auto production, with a major Ram pickup truck plant reducing its output because of a high number of absent workers, according to The Associated Press.
The number of new coronavirus cases around the globe has almost doubled over the past two months, an alarming increase that the World Health Organization said was nearing the pandemic’s peak infection rate, The Washington Post reports. Case numbers have spiked in nearly all regions, with large outbreaks gripping Brazil, India, Poland, Turkey and other countries.
20% of Oregon State Hospital nurses on leave as staff shortage intensifies: ‘Morale is very low’
Oregon State Hospital employees were hit with bad news at the end of March.
An unprecedented 20% of the hospital’s full-time nursing staff was out on leave, marking the latest effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. And beginning April 1, another wave of workers from throughout the public psychiatric hospital would be required to assist with the day-to-day care and supervision of patients — roles for which many staffers had limited experience and training.
Employees have since reported increasingly dangerous working conditions as they have sustained frequent and severe injuries from patients and suffered exhaustion and burnout from working overtime. They’ve also started pressuring hospital leaders to take immediate action to ease the strain.
Meanwhile, administrators asked a judge Tuesday to halt new admissions for two weeks, citing a spike in people waiting to be admitted into the hospital.
State hospital administrators said they’re aware of staff complaints, and said they continue to focus on quality care and safety.
But employees say they’re growing increasingly concerned with conditions.
Read the full story here.
Japanese leader asks Pfizer for additional vaccine supply
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga asked the U.S. drug maker Pfizer Inc. for additional supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine to speed up the inoculation drive that lags behind many other countries.
Suga, after holding talks with President Joe Biden at the White House, wrapped up his Washington visit on Saturday with a phone call to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
Suga requested Burla for additional supplies of the vaccine that would cover all eligible recipients by September, as well as to ensure the stable and prompt delivery of the ongoing vaccine shipments, Japanese officials said Sunday. No details were released.
According to the officials, Burla told Suga that Pfizer planned to closely coordinate with the Japanese government to discuss the requests.
Read the full story here.
Flouting COVID rules an open secret in California’s last purple county
In the end, Merced County was the last purple-tiered county standing on California’s pandemic map, an ignoble distinction that signaled coronavirus remained widespread and indoor dining and bars were supposed to stay closed.
But that’s not how things rolled here in this San Joaquin Valley county, home to miles of almond orchards and headquarters of Foster Farms, which briefly shut down its poultry processing plant after a COVID-19 outbreak last summer.
Many restaurant owners have been welcoming patrons inside for weeks if not months, bars have been bustling and at a pool hall on Merced’s Main Street early last week, a billiards tournament was in full swing.
So when the county finally advanced to the less-restrictive red tier on Wednesday — after contesting the state’s rules and complaining of political punishment — there was little need for celebration.
Like moonshiners during Prohibition, Merced County’s been partying for months.
Read the full story here.
These countries did well with COVID. So why has vaccine rollout been slow?
All through last year, as first Europe and then the United States suffered catastrophically high coronavirus infections and deaths, Pacific Rim countries staved off disaster through an array of methods. South Korea tested widely. Australia and New Zealand locked down. In Japan, people donned masks and heeded calls to isolate.
Now the roles have been reversed. These countries that largely subdued the virus are among the slowest in the developed world to vaccinate their residents, while countries like Britain and the United States that suffered grievous outbreaks are leapfrogging ahead with inoculations.
The United States has fully vaccinated close to one-quarter of the population, and Britain has given first shots to nearly half its residents. By contrast, Australia and South Korea have vaccinated less than 3% of their populations, and in Japan and New Zealand, not even 1% of the population has received a shot.
The delays risk unwinding their relative public health successes and postponing economic recoveries as highly contagious variants of the virus emerge and bottlenecks slow shipments of vaccines around the world.
Read the full story here.
COVID vaccines may affect women differently
News that seven women developed a rare blood clotting disorder after receiving Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine has prompted new questions about whether vaccines affect women differently than men, and whether there are special considerations that women should take into account when getting vaccinated.
The New York Times spoke with a few experts to learn what women should know as they become eligible to get their shots.
First, we don’t yet know if the blood clots affect women more than men.
Federal health agencies on Tuesday recommended that practitioners pause administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a half-dozen women developed a rare blood clotting disorder about two weeks after vaccination. The recipients were between the ages of 18 and 48; one woman died and a second was hospitalized in critical condition.
On Wednesday, two more possible cases were added: one in a woman, and one in a man.
But it is not clear if the clotting was caused by the vaccines or whether women are necessarily more often affected.
Read the full story here.
New COVID restrictions ire many in Canada’s most populous province
TORONTO — New pandemic restrictions imposed by Canada’s most populous province immediately ran into opposition on Saturday as police departments insisted they wouldn’t use new powers to randomly stop motorists and health experts complained the rules focus on outdoor activities rather than more dangerous indoor settings.
“We are all going through a horrific year of COVID-19 and all associated with it together. The (department) will NOT be randomly stopping vehicles for no reason during the pandemic or afterwards,” Halton Police Chief Steve Tanner tweeted.
The new rules limit outdoor gatherings to those in the same household and close playgrounds and golf courses. The decisions sparked widespread criticism in a province already on lockdown. Restaurants and gyms are closed as is in-class schooling. Most nonessential workers are working from home.
Ford complained about crowded parks and playgrounds, but at Friday’s new conference did not mention workplaces considered essential, such as factories, where the virus is spreading
“What we need: increased restrictions to reduce indoor contact, supports for frontline essential workers, paid sick leave, a re-prioritized vaccine rollout for hard-hit communities,” tweeted Joe Cressy, who is on Toronto’s city council.
“What we got: the closure of outdoor amenities, which we need to keep people safe and healthy.”
Dragging the family to get a COVID-19 vaccine, one arm at a time
Jackie Cornejo held her father’s hand for the last time on Jan. 31, as he died from complications of COVID-19. Ricardo Cornejo was “a true warrior,” her beloved viejito, who taught his daughter to be both generous and strong.
As she helped arrange her father’s funeral, she booked an appointment for her mother, Martha, to get vaccinated. When food service workers were eligible for the vaccine, she made an appointment for her little brother. Then one for her in-laws, her godmother, a sister and friends. At least nine — so far.
“It’s been therapeutic in a way to be able to get … people within my world vaccinated,” said Cornejo, who works on housing policy for the city of Los Angeles when she’s not arranging inoculation appointments. “It has been a little bit stressful, but it’s also been part of how I’ve been coping. My dad never had a chance.”
Cornejo is a vaccine hunter, an unofficial hero of the coronavirus age. Wielding smartphones and tablets, PCs and Macs, these internet wranglers blast through the barriers that stand between loved ones’ arms and needles filled with Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.
State reports 1,743 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,743 new coronavirus cases on Saturday.
The update brings the state's totals to 385,549 cases and 5,380 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Friday, though the state does not report new death data on weekends.
The total cases may include up to 600 duplicates, according to the DOH.
In addition, 21,434 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 66 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 96,808 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,494 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered at least 4.4 million doses and 23.91% 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 57,532 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.
‘Frustrated with it all’: As Whitman County returns to Phase 2, COVID-19 cases at WSU decline
For Pete Koerner, the biggest challenge now with running the Top Notch Cafe in Colfax is “just trying to keep the doors open, man.”
That didn’t get any easier Friday, the first day for Whitman County’s return to Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan.
Whitman County, along with Cowlitz and Pierce counties, will spend at least the next three weeks under Phase 2 restrictions instead of the less restrictive Phase 3. Phase 2 calls for 25% capacity limits in restaurants, gyms and bars.
Koerner, who runs Top Notch with his wife, Candis, kept customers who stopped for lunch Friday afternoon spaced a booth apart.
“I’m just frustrated,” he said. “Frustrated with it all.”
Whitman County’s Phase 2 return was largely driven by an increase in COVID-19 cases out of the city of Pullman, which makes up roughly 70% of the county’s population. Approximately 87% of countywide cases in the latest recorded 14-day period were attributed to Pullman residents, according to Whitman County Public Health.
‘Secret prom’ puts New Mexico school back on remote learning
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A Las Cruces high school returned to remote learning Friday as the school district in New Mexico’s second most populous city investigates a recent off-campus “secret prom” that officials said violated state mandates intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A complaint submitted to the governor’s office said hundreds of Mayfield High School students may have attended the event held April 10, according to a Las Cruces Public Schools statement released Thursday.
While the event is investigated, Mayfield will remain on remote learning through April 26 to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19, the district’s statement said.
Students who attended could face repercussions ranging from academic suspensions to being barred from school events such as graduation, district spokeswoman Kelly Jameson told the Las Cruces Sun-News.
“We understand that … students have certainly missed out on an awful lot this last year,” Jameson said. “But anything that threatens their own safety and welfare is something that could potentially impact others, and the district sees that as irresponsible at this point.”
Oregon officials address the state’s COVID vaccine inequity
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Oregon, officials on Friday addressed the “stark” and “unacceptable” disparities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported Friday that people in state’s wealthiest ZIP code are 58% vaccinated, while a low income community that has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic is 22% vaccinated.
“I want to recognize the fact that vaccinations in Oregon have not been administered as equitably as they need to be,” said Pat Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority. “The numbers are stark and clear. For too many people, race and income are predictors of whether you can access a COVID-19 vaccine or not.”
Vaccine disparities have been addressed by Oregon health officials since shots began being administered in December. At one point the Vaccine Advisory Committee discussed whether to prioritize racial minorities, but decided against it as they said people of color likely fell into other prioritized groups and due to concerns about legal issues if race was the focus.
In addition, migrant and seasonal farmworkers became eligible for the vaccine in March, the state has worked with 170 community-based organizations to inform and engage communities, Federally-Qualified Health Centers that serve minority populations have been sent vaccines to administer to those they serve — despite if people are eligible or not and vaccine clinics have been hosted in minority communities.
“We are doing more than we have ever done before and it is not enough,” said Gov. Kate Brown.
Why the vaccine safety numbers are still fuzzy
When federal officials paused administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six cases of a rare clotting disorder, one fatal, among the 6.9 million people who had received the vaccine, many critics noted that the chance of a serious ailment was so rare as to be negligible — less frequent than being struck by lightning.
But that roughly one-in-a-million rate is far from certain. Doctors may ultimately find the vaccine is not responsible for the ailment. However, if the two are linked, it’s also possible that the chance of an adverse effect will be higher, even if it remains low.
“Numbers seem quite solid, like, ‘Oh, it’s 10,’” said Caitlin Rivers, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, who studies infectious disease. She said epidemiologists deal with similar matters of uncertainty at the beginning of disease outbreaks. “But they’re estimates, and they will need to be refined, and they may need to be refined a lot, especially since they are small numbers.”
Coronavirus is disappearing from the halls of Congress even if the political rancor over the pandemic is not
WASHINGTON – Congress crossed a critical threshold Wednesday that is a testament to the power of vaccines: 75 straight days without a single member announcing a positive test for the coronavirus.
As cases surged inside the Capitol in the fall and early winter, congressional health officials began a vaccination program just before Christmas. The pandemic continued to wreak havoc among lawmakers throughout January, especially after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol forced hundreds of lawmakers to shelter together in cramped quarters for several hours as some Republicans refused to wear masks.
But, as vaccine shots became more widely available and the number of infections plummeted nationally, the coronavirus has all but disappeared among members of Congress.
Not since Jan. 29, when Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., announced he was infected, has a lawmaker revealed testing positive for the coronavirus, according to a database maintained by NPR. That is easily the longest stretch without a lawmaker contracting the deadly virus.
Epidemiologists caution that it takes a lot more medical research to declare that herd immunity has been achieved for this unique bubble, but a coronavirus-free Congress would be a significant trend as cases have risen again nationally for the past month and appear poised to continue rising for at least the next few weeks.
Alaska to offer tourists COVID-19 vaccines starting June 1
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Friday that COVID-19 vaccines would be made available at key airports in the state starting June 1, in unveiling plans aimed at bolstering the state’s pandemic-battered tourist industry.
Dunleavy, a Republican, outlined plans for a national marketing campaign aimed at luring tourists using federal aid money and said the vaccine offering is “probably another good reason to come to the state of Alaska in the summer.”
Dunleavy and other state leaders have been pushing to allow large cruise ships to return to Alaska after COVID-19 restrictions kept them away last year, hitting hard businesses and communities, particularly in southeast Alaska, that rely heavily on summer tourism.
He said the state has not ruled out suing the federal government, as Florida has, over the issue.
Inslee signs measure addressing health provider PPE costs
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Health benefit plans would have to reimburse health care providers a set amount for personal protective equipment for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic under a measure signed Friday by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
Some providers in the state, including dentists, have been billing insurance for the extra protective equipment they’ve had to use during the pandemic. But not all insurers cover the fee, which means the extra cost falls to patients.
Under the measure, which was unanimously approved by both the Senate and the House, providers who bill insurance for protective gear as a separate expense must be reimbursed $6.57 per patient encounter. However, it doesn’t specifically prevent providers from billing patients for any costs that exceed that amount. The law does not apply to health care services not provided in person.
Because an emergency clause was part of the bill, the law took effect immediately upon Inslee’s signature. The law will expire once the COVID-19 federal public health state emergency is declared over by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Worldwide COVID-19 death toll tops a staggering 3 million
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The global death toll from the coronavirus topped a staggering 3 million people Saturday amid repeated setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign and a deepening crisis in places such as Brazil, India and France.
The number of lives lost, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Kyiv, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; or metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal. It is bigger than Chicago (2.7 million) and equivalent to Philadelphia and Dallas combined.
And the true number is believed to be significantly higher because of possible government concealment and the many cases overlooked in the early stages of the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.
When the world back in January passed the bleak threshold of 2 million deaths, immunization drives had just started in Europe and the United States. Today, they are underway in more than 190 countries, though progress in bringing the virus under control varies widely.
While the campaigns in the U.S. and Britain have hit their stride and people and businesses there are beginning to contemplate life after the pandemic, other places, mostly poorer countries but some rich ones as well, are lagging behind in putting shots in arms and have imposed new lockdowns and other restrictions as virus cases soar.
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