Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, April 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 schools are bracing for spikes in COVID-19 cases when students and staff return from spring break on Monday. School districts, including Seattle Public Schools, handed out thousands of at-home rapid tests. Health experts recommend students and staff takes tests Monday before school.

Scientists at California’s Stanford University have found patients can harbor COVID-19 in their feces for months after infection, stoking concern that its persistence can aggravate the immune system and cause long COVID symptoms.

Meanwhile, other researchers are developing ways to detect the virus by exhaling one breath. The Food and Drug Administration approved emergency-use authorization of the InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer — a milestone after years of effort.

Earlier this week, Philadelphia became the first major city in the country to reinstate its indoor mask mandate after a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. Residents and several businesses have filed a lawsuit to overturn the mandate.

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.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

Alaska, Delta, United among airlines dropping mask requirement after federal mandate struck down

Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines dropped dropped their mask requirements Monday after a federal judge in Florida ruled a federal mask mandate invalid.

Effective immediately, passengers and employees at those and several other major carriers are no longer required to mask. The precaution was put in place two years ago in the early days of the COVID pandemic.

“It has been a long 24 months with nearly constant change. I could not be prouder of our frontline employees who have handled every pivot focusing on safety and the care we’re known for,” Max Tidwell, vice president of safety and security at Alaska Airlines, said in a statement Monday. “We’re also thankful for our guests who remained considerate, patient and stood by us throughout every twist and turn.”

Alaska passengers who were banned by the airline for violating the mask policy remain banned.

Read the full story here.

—Seattle Times business staff

Hip hop pioneer DJ Kay Slay dies of COVID-19 at age 55

 Pioneering hip hop artist Keith Grayson, who performed as DJ Kay Slay and worked with top stars, has died of complications from COVID-19.

Grayson’s death at age 55 on Sunday was confirmed by his family in a statement released through New York radio station HOT 97, where he hosted “The Drama Hour” for more than two decades.

“A dominant figure in hip hop culture with millions of fans worldwide, DJ Kay Slay will be remembered for his passion and excellence with a legacy that will transcend generations,” the family statement said.

Grayson grew up in Harlem, immersed in New York City’s early hip hop scene. He got his start as a teenage graffiti artist and was featured in the 1983 hip hop documentary “Style Wars.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Masks rules in effect for most public transportation in Seattle area, despite court ruling,

Masks will continue to be required on buses, trains and ferries in the Seattle area, despite a ruling from a federal judge in Florida striking down the Center for Disease Control’s federal mandate on airlines and public transportation.

How strictly the rules will be enforced is unclear as mandates have fallen away in most other public settings, and with mask use on some modes of transportation mixed.

Regardless, King County Metro, Sound Transit, Washington State Ferries and Kitsap Transit on Monday said their current requirements would not change as the judge’s ruling could be appealed and directives changed once more.

“While a federal judge in Florida ruled against the transit mask mandate, there may be an appeal from the Justice Department that could lead to a delay in implementation, or for the decision to be altered or overruled,” Metro spokesperson Sean Hawkes said in a statement. “In the meantime, Metro’s mask mandate remains in effect.”

Read the full story here.

—David Kroman

Feeling anxiety about returning to the office? Read these tips

Returning to an office setting and all that comes with it — bumper-to-bumper commute traffic, frustrating coworkers, left-behind family members at home — is understandably stressful for many whose pandemic-era routines are changing this spring.

Some may be concerned about safety and coronavirus restrictions as offices reopen. Others may be dreading change, after developing systems at home that helped create a more balanced life.

Many jobs have required in-person work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For other people who have been working remotely, returning to an office environment can bring a range of emotions.

The Seattle Times spoke with mental health counselors to get tips on how those of us experiencing anxiety around returning to an in-person office environment can manage stress.

Read the full story here.

—Michelle Baruchman

Tourism-reliant Cyprus scraps virus tests for most travelers

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus authorities on Monday made traveling to the east Mediterranean island nation easier as the summer tourist season kicks into gear by rescinding the need to undergo any COVID-19 tests prior to boarding a flight or on arrival.

According to the new regulations, only unvaccinated people who haven’t contracted and recovered from the coronavirus must undergo a PCR test 72 hours prior to boarding or a rapid test 24 hours before departure.

All Cyprus-bound passengers are no longer required to fill in a form — also known as a Cyprus Flight Pass — providing information that enables authorities to trace them if they do test positive for COVID-19 during their stay.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,483 new coronavirus cases on Friday, 968 on Saturday and 925 cases on Sunday. It also reported 7 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,477,863 cases and 12,626 deaths, meaning that .85% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

DOH on Monday said data may be incomplete due to a mechanical issue in their data systems. A full update is expected on Wednesday.

In addition, 59,795 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 114 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 386,021 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,711 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,464,941 doses and 68% 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 13,134 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.

—Daisy Zavala

Florida judge voids US mask mandate for planes, other travel

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge in Florida on Monday voided the national mask mandate covering airlines and other public transportation as exceeding the authority of U.S. health officials in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The mandate, recently extended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, covered a vast array of transportation, from airplanes and trains to city subways and ride-sharing vehicles such as Uber.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, also said the CDC improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures that left it fatally flawed.

In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only remedy was to vacate the rule entirely across the country because it would be impossible to end it for the limited group of people who objected in the lawsuit.

Read the full story here.

—Curt Anderson, The Associated Press

Coronavirus persisting in feces offers clues to long COVID cause

COVID-19 patients can harbor the coronavirus in their feces for months after infection, researchers found, stoking concern that its persistence can aggravate the immune system and cause long COVID symptoms.

In the largest study tracking SARS-CoV-2 RNA in feces and COVID-19 symptoms, scientists at California’s Stanford University found that about half of infected patients shed traces of the virus in their waste in the week after infection and almost 4% patients still emit them seven months later. The researchers also linked coronavirus RNA in feces to gastric upsets, and concluded that SARS-CoV-2 likely directly infects the gastrointestinal tract, where it may hide out.

“It raises the question that ongoing infections in hidden parts of the body may be important for long COVID,” said Ami Bhatt, a senior author on the study published online last week in the journal Med, and an associate professor of medicine and genetics at Stanford. Lingering virus might directly invade cells and damage tissues or produce proteins that are provoking the immune system, she said in an interview.

Read the full story here.

—Jason Gale, Bloomberg News

Is COVID more dangerous than driving? How scientists are parsing COVID risks

The onus has fallen on individual Americans to decide how much risk they and their neighbors face from the coronavirus — and what, if anything, to do about it.

For many people, the threats posed by COVID have eased dramatically over the two years of the pandemic. Vaccines slash the risk of being hospitalized or dying. Powerful new antiviral pills can help keep vulnerable people from deteriorating.

But not all Americans can count on the same protection. Millions of people with weakened immune systems do not benefit fully from vaccines. Two-thirds of Americans, and more than one-third of those 65 and older, have not received the critical security of a booster shot, with the most worrisome rates among Black and Hispanic people. And patients who are poorer or live farther from doctors and pharmacies face steep barriers to getting antiviral pills.

These vulnerabilities have made calculating the risks posed by the virus a fraught exercise.

Read the full story here.

—Benjamin Mueller, The New York Times

The CDC is changing its COVID travel advisory system

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to update its international COVID-19 travel advisory system Monday, designating its highest-risk category for extreme scenarios.

“To help the public understand when the highest level of concern is most urgent, this new system will reserve Level 4 travel health notices for special circumstances, such as rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern, or health care infrastructure collapse,” the agency said in a statement last week.

The three lower-level warnings will continue to be determined mainly by 28-day coronavirus incidence or case counts. “With this new configuration, travelers will have a more actionable alert for when they should not travel to a certain destination (Level 4), regardless of vaccination status, until we have a clearer understanding of the COVID-19 situation at that destination,” the statement continued.

Read the full story here.

—Nathan Diller, The Washington Post

High court won’t hear New York City teacher vaccine dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is declining to wade into a lawsuit filed by four New York City public school employees over a policy that they be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Lower courts had previously allowed the policy to go into effect while litigation continued, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor had also rejected an emergency request that the policy be put on hold. The justices said Monday they wouldn’t get involved in the dispute. As is typical the justices did not say anything in rejecting the case, and it was one of more than 100 the court turned away.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Shanghai reports first deaths in current COVID-19 outbreak

Shanghai authorities on Monday reported the first COVID-19 deaths in the latest outbreak in China’s most populous and wealthiest city.

All three people who died were elderly, had underlying diseases such as diabetes and hypertension and had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus, city Health Commission inspector Wu Ganyu told journalists.

“After entering hospital, their conditions grew worse and they died after attempts to save them were unsuccessful,” Wu said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Should you get second COVID booster? Data is ‘compelling’ for those over 60, US official says

Americans older than 60 should get a second booster shot of a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said Sunday, citing “pretty compelling” new data from Israel indicating that a fourth shot significantly reduces infections and deaths among older people there.

Jha’s comments, on “Fox News Sunday,” came after the Food and Drug Administration on March 29 authorized second booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for everyone 50 and older.

The FDA said the move was an effort to strengthen waning immunity against severe disease as the more contagious subvariant of omicron, known as BA. 2, was emerging as the dominant version of the virus in the United States.

Asked if Americans should get a second booster shot, Jha, who was named the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response coordinator last month, pointed to research from Israel that indicated that a fourth shot offered strong protection, particularly against severe illness, in people older than 60.

Read the full story here.

—William Lamb, The New York Times