Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, April 2, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

The number of U.S. patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has fallen by more than 90%, bringing the total to the lowest its been since the beginning of the pandemic. Some hospitals across the country have reported going days without admitting a COVID-19 patient into their intensive care units.

A new study analyzing medical records of nearly 14 million U.S. patients found that pregnant people vaccinated against COVID-19 are almost twice as likely to get the virus than vaccinated people who are not pregnant.

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.

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WA state’s worst prison COVID outbreak is in Franklin County. Inmates and staff sickened

The Coyote Ridge Corrections Center north of the Tri-Cities is in the midst of the biggest COVID outbreak in the Washington state prison system.

The state Department of Corrections reported Friday that 186 of the 199 active cases in all of the state’s prisons are currently at the Connell facility.

In the last 30 days, 20% of the Connell prison’s 1,800 inmates have tested positive for COVID.

Since the start of the pandemic, Coyote Ridge has had 5 confirmed inmate deaths from COVID.

Read more here.

—Cameron Probert of the Tri-City Herald
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Mandates are ending in U.S., but protests outside officials’ homes continue

Many pandemic restrictions in the United States and Canada have been relaxed, but that has not stopped protesters from gathering outside some government officials’ homes and badgering them.

Although vaccination and masking rules have generally eased in the past few months, protests have continued outside officials’ residences in Massachusetts and other places in the United States, and in Nova Scotia and Alberta in Canada. Demonstrators have disrupted traffic, disturbed neighbors and, in some cases, targeted officials with racist and sexist language.

Since she took office in November, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has been targeted by demonstrators. Many of them oppose her vaccination mandates requiring city workers and some people in indoor settings to be vaccinated, although one has been held up by a court ruling. They have been pestering her for weeks outside her home, calling her “Hitler” and shouting at her children that she was going to prison, she said on Twitter in January.

Wu lifted the city’s universal indoor mask requirement earlier this month, but the protests have not stopped.

Protesters have also harangued a Boston city council member, Ricardo Arroyo, outside his home, he said on Twitter last week.

In Nova Scotia last month, some people who opposed the Canadian province’s pandemic restrictions demonstrated outside the home of Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health. Nova Scotia has been lifting restrictions in phases since last month.

Read the full story here.

—Alyssa Lukpat, The New York Times

How many COVID deaths are ‘acceptable’? Decision necessary to move to post-pandemic world

In the post-pandemic world the United States is struggling to bring forth, how many people are we willing to let die of COVID-19 each year?

Yep, let’s go there.

Should your vaccinated grandmother’s death from COVID-19 be considered an acceptable loss? Should seasonal spikes in casualties among the unvaccinated elicit more than a shrug? Should life go on without disruption if a new coronavirus variant starts killing as many youngsters as childhood cancers?

You won’t see politicians calling press conferences to acknowledge that some deaths are inevitable and some lives aren’t worth what it would cost to save them.

But acceptable numbers of deaths are the common currency of public health professionals. And they are a central factor in every debate over when — and after what expenditure of money and effort — the time has come to move on.

Setting an upper bound on the number of COVID-19 deaths the country will tolerate each year is the basis for decisions about when it will be OK to drop pandemic safety rules, and when it might be necessary to reinstate them.

A growing number of Americans have concluded the time to move on from the pandemic is now. In mid-March, 64% of adults who took an Axios-Ipsos poll said they’re in favor of lifting all federal, state and local COVID-19 restrictions — up from 44% in early February.

Read the full story here.

—Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times

Housing crisis, pandemic reshaping Southern California population

Alexa David and her husband, Josh, had never planned on staying in Los Angeles forever.

They’d moved to L.A. after he got accepted to grad school at USC in 2018 and figured they might stay a few years after he graduated, both working in the tech industry, but would have to leave eventually “because the cost of living was so out of control,” she said.

Then came the pandemic, and L.A. tech companies largely stopped hiring, David said.

“When COVID-19 hit, we decided to leave sooner, and move somewhere we felt like we could still have access to the outdoors, but with a better cost of living,” she said.

They decided on Denver and bought a house in the ‘burbs — and became two of more than 175,000 people who left Los Angeles County, not to be replaced by someone else moving in, during the first year of the pandemic, according to new census data.

Demographers and policy experts say the pandemic supercharged many of the trends that have been reshaping California’s population for years: rising death rates, declining birth rates and, most dramatically, mass moves out of coastal counties and into inland counties and other states, whether by necessity to escape unaffordable housing costs or by choice with newfound work-from-home freedom.

In Southern California, all of those factors combined to shrink the populations of L.A. and Orange counties by a total of 176,000 people from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, while Riverside and San Bernardino counties grew by almost 48,000 people — the fifth-highest increase of large metro areas in the U.S. They surpassed the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley metro area to become the country’s 12th largest.

Read the full story here.

—Nikie Johnson, The Orange County Register
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Cuts in Britain could cause a COVID-19 data drought

The British government on Friday shut down or scaled back a number of its COVID-19 surveillance programs, curtailing the collection of data that the United States and many other countries had come to rely on to understand the threat posed by emerging variants and the effectiveness of vaccines. Denmark, too, renowned for insights from its comprehensive tests, has drastically cut back on its virus tracking efforts in recent months.

As more countries loosen their policies toward living with COVID-19 rather than snuffing it out, health experts worry that monitoring systems will become weaker, making it more difficult to predict new surges and to make sense of emerging variants.

“Things are going to get harder now,” said Samuel Scarpino, a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute. “And right as things get hard, we’re dialing back the data systems.”

Since the alpha variant emerged in fall 2020, Britain has served as a bellwether, tracking that variant as well as delta and omicron before they arrived in the U.S. After a slow start, U.S. genomic surveillance efforts have steadily improved with a modest increase in funding.

“This might actually put the U.S. in more of a leadership position,” said Kristian Andersen, a virus expert at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

Read the full story here.

—CARL ZIMMER, The New York Times

Hollywood backlots remained nearly full during the pandemic. Here’s why

Hollywood’s soundstages remained nearly fully occupied throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic even as filming halted, highlighting the scarcity of studio space in the region, according to a new report.

The average annual soundstage occupancy rate reached 94% in 2020, up from 93% in 2019, according to the new report from Film LA, the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county.

One explanation: Many studios reported full backlots as producers sought out more controlled environments for outdoor shooting. Even with a 87-day shutdown, the number of shoot days on backlots dropped only 15 % from 2019 to 2020.

The report comes as California is attempting to spur more investment in soundstages across the region. Last summer, state legislators authorized an additional $150 million in tax credits for filming on renovated or newly constructed soundstages as part of a plan to lure more production to the state.

The scarcity of studio space has led to rents rising 15% in the last five years and caused some producers to leave the region. Most studio operators did not lose a single lessee during the production shutdown, according to the report.

See full story here.

—Anousha Sakoui, Los Angeles Times

New federal task force in Spokane takes aim at businesses, people committing COVID fraud

A new team of federal investigators and prosecutors is using old laws to build new cases alleging theft of government funds intended to help people weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It all ran out really quickly, because there was incredible need,” said U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington Vanessa Waldref, referring to the billions of dollars loaned in the immediate days following government shutdowns. “But there was also a lot of incredible fraud, and a lot of deserving businesses did not get the funds they needed.”

Waldref, who took office in October, said she recognized in her office the expertise needed to bring large fraud cases, such as those targeting payday loan lenders, would-be historic properties developers and contractors working at the Hanford nuclear clean-up site. A conversation with Weston King, special agent-in-charge of the Seattle Field Office of the Small Business Administration, led to the development of a task force assigning those investigators and attorneys to cases involving theft of the money set aside by Congress in coronavirus aid.

The task force follows U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s announcement in May that the Justice Department would prioritize investigation and prosecution of COVID-19 fraud cases. Dan Fruchter, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern Washington district who is one of five prosecutors working on cases, said the division of labor will lead to faster investigations and prosecutions.

“That really is the goal, to get from our investigative lead to the completion of the investigation in weeks instead of months and years,” Fruchter said.

Read the full story here.

—Kip Hill, The Spokesman-Review
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Alaska lawmakers decline mandates amid COVID outbreak, raising questions about further disruption

JUNEAU — The Alaska Capitol’s coronavirus outbreak grew to nearly three dozen active cases Thursday, as lawmakers say there’s little political will to enact tougher measures than voluntary masking and testing.

Some 10% of the 400 legislators and support staff working at the Capitol have tested positive in the past few days. And the Legislature’s official figures — 33 active cases as of Thursday — exclude at least two additional infections detected on at-home tests, and two cases among media, confirmed by the Anchorage Daily News.

At least four legislators have publicly confirmed testing positive in recent days: Anchorage Democratic Reps. Chris Tuck and Ivy Spohnholz, North Pole GOP Rep. Mike Prax and Anchorage Democratic Sen. Tom Begich.

Another state senator is finishing a quarantine after a positive test, leaders from that chamber said. And Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster also left the building for testing Monday and has not been spotted since then; he has not responded to requests for comment about his status.

Leaders of the largely Democratic House majority, whose legislators and staff have made up a large share of infections, said they were optimistic that case numbers would fall to a safe level over the weekend. That would allow the resumption of floor sessions and work on the state budget, which House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, canceled this week after a few Republican minority members refused to comply with her order that they wear masks.

But others at the Capitol were anxious that patchy adherence to mitigation measures throughout and outside the building could prolong the outbreak and continue to disrupt legislative business into next week and beyond.

Read the full story here.

—Nathaniel Herz, Anchorage Daily News

As Biden pleads for more COVID aid, states are awash in federal dollars

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear has been toting oversize checks around his state in recent weeks, handing them out to city and county officials for desperately needed water improvements.

The tiny city of Mortons Gap, Kentucky, got $109,000 to bring running water to six families who do not have it. The people of Martin County, whose water has been too contaminated to drink since a coal slurry spill two decades ago, got $411,000. The checks bear Beshear’s signature, but the money comes from the federal government, part of a huge infusion of coronavirus relief aid that is helping to fuel record budget surpluses in Kentucky and many other states.

Therein lies a Washington controversy. The funds, which Congress approved at a moment when the pandemic was still raging, are allowed to be used for far broader purposes than combating the virus, including water projects like those in Kentucky. Most states will get another round of “fiscal recovery funds” — part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — next month.

But in Washington, Biden is out of money to pay for the most basic means of protecting people during the pandemic: medications, vaccines, testing and reimbursement for care. Republicans have refused to sign off on new spending, citing the state recovery funds as an example of money that could be repurposed for urgent national priorities.

“These states are awash in money — everybody from Kentucky to California,” said Scott Jennings, a former aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader. “People are like, ‘We’ve printed all this money; we’ve sent it out. These states have these massive surpluses, and now you need more?’”

Read the full story here.

—SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, The New York Times

North Korea linked to a cyberattack disguised as a COVID vaccine registration site

Hackers linked to North Korea were suspected of carrying out a cyberattack on South Koreans through emails disguised as official messages sent from a medical journal calling on recipients to book appointments for a new coronavirus vaccine, a South Korean cybersecurity company said in a statement Friday.

The cyberattack, which came less than a week after North Korea conducted its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile test to date, was sent from an email address belonging to the Korean Society for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, the company said. This was possible because the hackers had infiltrated the medical journal’s server and email account in what the company, ESTsecurity, called a phishing attack.

“We have confirmed that the camouflage methods and tactical commands used to steal the account exactly matched the other cases of cyberattacks linked to North Korea,” the company said, adding that the email’s header contained a code found in previous attacks that analysts have linked to North Korea.

Previously, North Korean hackers have used cyberattacks on governments, companies and financial institutions to steal information and millions of dollars to fund their own government. ESTsecurity has also attributed to North Korea similar phishing attacks sent from email addresses belonging to agencies such as the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Unification.

The latest email attack targeted mostly South Koreans working in fields dealing with North Korea, the company said, and appeared to be designed to trick the recipients into providing personal information to the hackers by making them believe they were registering for the new vaccine.

Read the full story here.

—John Yoon, The New York Times
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COVID more likely to cause heart problems than vaccine, CDC study finds

While COVID vaccinations increased cardiac risks in some young men, the virus itself was much more likely to cause heart problems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a study released Friday.

“The risk for cardiac complications was significantly higher after SARS-CoV-2 infection than after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination for both males and females in all age groups,” the CDC said in a study summary.

COVID vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna were linked to higher risk for problems including myocarditis and pericarditis. The Moderna vaccine still has not been approved for anyone under age 18.

According to the CDC, previous research had established links between both COVID and COVID vaccines to myocarditis and similar heart inflammation conditions. But Friday’s study was the first to directly compare them and produce a resounding answer: COVID was worse.

Myocarditis and pericarditis linked to the vaccine were seen most often in boys between the ages of 12 and 17 after the second dose, according to the study. But even for those youngsters, COVID was 1.8 to 5.6-times more likely to cause heart problems.

The study included several million different people and was conducted from January 2021 to January 2022.

At the end of February 2022, the CDC began recommending an eight-week gap between first and second doses for boys over age 12 and young men.

—Joseph Wilkinson, New York Daily News

Mayor Eric Adams opts to keep NYC school mask rule for kids under 5 — but court ruling may scuttle his plan

NEW YORK — Confusion erupted Friday over whether the city’s youngest children should wear face masks in school, as Mayor Adams vowed to keep a mandate in place for the toddlers despite a court ruling that struck down the requirement as unenforceable.

Last week, Adams vowed to lift the mask rule for kids under 5 this coming Monday as long as infection rates remained low.

But in a briefing at City Hall on Friday afternoon, Adams said he would not follow through with dropping the toddler mandate after all in light of an uptick in COVID-19 infections in the five boroughs driven by the highly contagious BA.2 omicron subvariant of the virus.

“I will continue to say to parents: You should keep your mask on your children,” Adams told reporters.

Just hours earlier, however, Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio rescinded the face covering requirement for kids under 5 with immediate effect, declaring in a ruling that it is “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

Back at City Hall, Adams said his administration was already drawing up an appeal asking a higher court to overturn Porzio’s ruling so that the city can require the youngsters to keep their masks on.

Read the full story here.

—Chris Sommerfeldt and Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News

Hong Kong urges testing, Shanghai struggles under lockdown

BEIJING (AP) — Hong Kong authorities Saturday asked the entire population of more than 7.4 million people to voluntarily test themselves for COVID-19 at home for three days in a row starting next week.

The announcement by Chief Executive Carrie Lam came as the southern Chinese city is struggling to contain its worst outbreak with authorities sending mixed signals about testing and lockdowns.

Lam said a “compulsory, universal test” of the whole population is still essential, but did not say when that might happen. Authorities shelved the idea after a previous announcement caused panic buying.

The prospect of further school closures and other disruptions has the government caught between calls for loosening restrictions and Beijing’s demand for an extreme “zero-COVID” approach mandating lockdowns and mass testing.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous territory, on Friday lifted a ban on residents returning aboard flights from nine countries where COVID-19 cases have surged, including Britain and the U.S.

Hong Kong reported another 5,820 cases Friday as the latest surge begins to taper off.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Tri-Cities bar that defied WA mandates shuts down. COVID, inflation and Biden blamed

A Tri-Cities restaurant that made headlines for refusing to comply with COVID-19 restrictions during the height of the pandemic has closed for good, citing the pandemic, inflation and President Joe Biden himself.

Koko’s Bartini announced on social media last week it would close Saturday, March 26, but the restaurant ended up shutting down Friday evening because of staffing issues.

“Closed” signs were placed on the door of the business and over the restaurant’s hours, including a small picture of Biden saying, “I did that.”

A variation of the same image was also posted on its Facebook page. There also was a sign on the door stating “Koko’s Bartini will not violate your HIPAA rights — your body, your choice — come on in.”

Owner Dana Slovak told the Tri-City Herald in an email that they will miss all their faithful customers.

“The challenges with COVID 2020 year, struggle in 2021 reopening, and now inflation has crippled Koko’s to a financial point. You gotta know when to hold them, and when to fold them,” Slovak said. “Thanks to all our Koko’s fans and their patriotism these past struggling 3 years.”

Read the full story here.

—Cory McCoy, Tri-City Herald

UK hits record COVID-19 levels; nearly 5 million infected

LONDON (AP) — The prevalence of COVID-19 in the U.K. has reached record levels, with about 1 in 13 people estimated to be infected with the virus in the past week, according to the latest figures from Britain’s official statistics agency.

Some 4.9 million people were estimated to have the coronavirus in the week ending March 26, up from 4.3 million recorded in the previous week, the Office for National Statistics said Friday. The latest surge is driven by the more transmissible omicron variant BA.2, which is the dominant variant across the U.K.

Hospitalizations and death rates are again rising, although the number of people dying with COVID-19 is still relatively low compared with earlier this year. Nonetheless, the latest estimates suggest that the steep climb in new infections since late February, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrapped all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England, has continued well into March.

The figures came on the same day the government ended free rapid COVID-19 tests for most people in England, under Johnson’s “living with COVID” plan. People who do not have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus now need to pay for tests to find out if they are infected.

“The government’s ‘living with COVID’ strategy of removing any mitigations, isolation, free testing and a considerable slice of our surveillance amounts to nothing more than ignoring this virus going forwards,” said Stephen Griffin, associate professor at the University of Leeds’ medical school.

Read the full story here.

—SYLVIA HUI, The Associated Press

Cuts in Britain could cause a COVID-19 data drought

The British government on Friday shut down or scaled back a number of its COVID-19 surveillance programs, curtailing the collection of data that the United States and many other countries had come to rely on to understand the threat posed by emerging variants and the effectiveness of vaccines. Denmark, too, renowned for insights from its comprehensive tests, has drastically cut back on its virus tracking efforts in recent months.

As more countries loosen their policies toward living with COVID-19 rather than snuffing it out, health experts worry that monitoring systems will become weaker, making it more difficult to predict new surges and to make sense of emerging variants.

“Things are going to get harder now,” said Samuel Scarpino, a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute. “And right as things get hard, we’re dialing back the data systems.”

Since the alpha variant emerged in fall 2020, Britain has served as a bellwether, tracking that variant as well as delta and omicron before they arrived in the U.S. After a slow start, U.S. genomic surveillance efforts have steadily improved with a modest increase in funding.

“This might actually put the U.S. in more of a leadership position,” said Kristian Andersen, a virus expert at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

Read the full story here.

—CARL ZIMMER, The New York Times