Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
In a three-page memo to teams, Major League Baseball encouraged vaccinations and outlined a relaxation of some of the league’s strict COVID-19 protocols if 85% of a team’s personnel classified as Tier One — players, managers, coaches, bullpen catchers, team medical staff, strength and conditioning coaches and any support staff flying on a team plane — were vaccinated. Once a team reaches the 85% threshold, vaccinated players and staff would be able to eat and drink on flights, play cards and could gather in indoor places like hotels without masks or social distancing provided no non-vaccinated people are present. Players would not have to wear masks in dugouts or the bullpen during games or wear tracking devices to monitor their movements.
As the state’s vaccine rollout picks up momentum, so too has the prevalence of concerning coronavirus variants, with Department of Health officials bracing for a possible fourth wave of infections. The good news: Some 1.3 million Washingtonians are fully vaccinated; everyone 16 and older in Washington state — some 6.3 million people in total — will be eligible for vaccination on April 15; and the state expects to receive some 460,000 doses next week — a record. The not-so-good news: Case counts are on the rise in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties and coronavirus variants of concern — which could spread more easily, cause more harm, or more readily escape treatment or immunity by vaccination — now make up a majority of most recent cases to receive genomic sequencing by Washington laboratories.
Surge in COVID cases in King County could lead to reopening rollback
COVID-19 is spreading more quickly than people can be vaccinated, and cases and hospitalizations are climbing throughout King County, a public health official said Friday, creating concerns over the pace of reopening.
If cases continues to climb over the next week or two, the county may return to the more-limited Phase 2 of the reopening plan, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. Less than two weeks ago, on March 22, Washington state entered Phase 3, which allows for up to 10 people from different households to gather indoors, and outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people.
A recent increase in hospitalizations over the past few weeks is attributed in part to coronavirus variants. More than 600 cases of variants have been detected in King County, and the number continues to grow.
About 30% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 recently in King County said that they had attended social events such as family visits, weddings, group meals and parties — a 10% increase from January. About 11% of people with COVID-19 recently also reported visiting bars and restaurants during the period in which they were exposed, which is up from 5% in January. Ten percent of people said that they went to stores, which is up from 5% in January. The number of cases where people were exposed while traveling rose to 11% over the past few weeks, compared to up to 6% in January.
King County Metro to increase passenger limits
The restrictions have been expanded as more residents get vaccinated, more groups are eligible for vaccinations and as King County opens more businesses in its Phase 3 approach.
On a 40-foot bus, 20 passengers will be permitted on board at any given time, up from 12. On a 60-foot bus, 30 passengers will be permitted, up from 18.
These new limits, effective April 19, represent 40% of Metro's pre-COVID capacity.
Metro will also increase the number of passengers permitted on other modes, such as water taxis.
The agency plans to increase limits to 70% of pre-COVID capacity by July.
State reports 1,420 new coronavirus cases and 16 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,420 new coronavirus cases and 16 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 367,115 cases and 5,278 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. Thursday.
In addition, 20,641 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 33 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 91,508 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,470 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 3,471,343 doses and 17.85% 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 57,321 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.
EU nations struggle to achieve vaccination solidarity
The European Union is struggling to show vaccination solidarity after a week of negotiations over the distribution of extra doses exposed fissures on Friday.
Five EU nations that struggled most to get their vaccination drive going were given extra doses from an alliance of 19 other countries. Late Thursday, a deal was reached to distribute an early batch of 10 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses with Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia receiving a proportionally large number of doses. But Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia didn’t get additional shots.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said some countries were receiving more than their fair share at the cost of others.
Overall, the EU continues to lag well behind nations like the United Kingdom and United States when it comes to vaccinations.
Christians mark Good Friday amid lingering virus woes
Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday this year amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down, with religious sites open to limited numbers of faithful but none of the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the Holy Week leading up to Easter.
The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where worshippers are marking a second annual Holy Week under various movement restrictions amid outbreaks fanned by more contagious strains.
Last year, Jerusalem was under a strict lockdown. This year, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, is open to visitors with masks and social distancing.
Many still hesitate to get vaccine, but reluctance is easing
There’s been a slight shift since the first weeks of the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign, which began in mid-December, with more Americans now willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
An AP-NORC poll conducted in late January showed that 67% of adult Americans were willing to get vaccinated or had already received at least one shot. Now that figure has climbed to 75%.
In the latest poll, Republicans remained more likely than Democrats to say they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, 36% compared with 12%. But back in January, 44% said they would shy away from a vaccine.
Andrea Richmond, a 26-year-old freelance web coder in Atlanta, is among those whose reluctance is easing. A few weeks ago, Richmond was leaning toward not getting the shot. Possible long-term effects worried her. She knew that an H1N1 vaccine used years ago in Europe increased risk of narcolepsy.
Then her sister got vaccinated with no ill effects. Richmond’s friends’ opinions also changed.
“They went from, ‘I’m not trusting this’ to ‘I’m all vaxxed up, let’s go out!’”
COVID-19 pandemic shopping habits are giving inflation experts a headache
Financial markets are obsessed with where inflation is headed. Statisticians are struggling to figure out where it’s at.
The pandemic has created major headaches for the people whose job it is to determine the rate of inflation right now, and set the benchmarks that will be used to measure it in the future. They face two fundamental problems.
First, gauges like the Consumer Price Index are based on a “basket” of stuff that Americans typically spent their money on in the past — which looks quite different from what people have been buying in the pandemic year.
Second, the standard way of compiling inflation numbers is to visit stores and check their asking prices. Researchers haven’t been able to do that during lockdown, leaving holes in the data. And a lot of shopping has in any case shifted online, where prices can be tailored to individual shoppers and subject to rapid change — making them harder to measure.
These are more than just technical issues. The incomes of almost 80 million Americans, from recipients of social security and food stamps to workers in collective wage agreements, are tied in some way to the CPI. When it fails to capture changes in the cost of living, their budgets can get squeezed.
Pakistanis clash with police at shrine shut over coronavirus
Pakistan deployed paramilitary troops early Friday to a shrine closed due to coronavirus restrictions, after hundreds of pilgrims trying to get in clashed with police.
Police said the pilgrims broke open the main gate of the the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, attacked police and threw stones Thursday night.
Shrines in Pakistan were closed recently as part of measures to help stem the spread of coronavirus. Pakistan on Friday reported over 5,000 new cases in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day infection rate since June 2020.
Dutch pause AstraZeneca shots for under-60s
The Dutch government said Friday it is temporarily halting AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccinations for people under 60 following reports of very small number of people suffering unusual blood clots after receiving the shot.
The Dutch decision comes three days after authorities in Germany also stopped using the AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the under-60s, citing fresh concerns over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots.
Earlier Friday, a Dutch organization that monitors vaccine side effects said it had received five reports of blood clots with low blood plate counts following vaccinations. All the cases occurred between seven and 10 days after the vaccinations and all the people affected were women aged between 25 and 65 years.
The news is another setback for the AstraZeneca vaccine. It comes two weeks after the EU drug regulator said the vaccine does not increase the overall incidence of blood clots following a similar scare.
Most European Union countries resumed using the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 19.
Britain is in the throes of a huge dognapping crime wave
Tilly was snatched from her bed. Moet was nabbed from her home. Angel plucked from her garden.
A former boxer fought off a thief with a knife who tried to boost Rosie the collie. A maltipoo named Nala disappeared, as if from a TV thriller, along with her dog walker’s van. A pair of guileless labs, named Denzel and Welly, were led away from an upscale market. The surveillance camera footage made the evening news. So did their rescue this past week.
Britain is in the throes of a huge dognapping crime wave. This is extremely distressing, in this nation of animal lovers, another emotional lashing in a strange and terrible year.
The humane societies and rescue charities in Britain say they have never seen anything like it. Animal welfare investigators — pet detectives, really — blame the pandemic. The demand for dogs is massive, but there are so few for sale or adoption. So crime bosses are now puppy brokers.
Mortgage firms warned to prepare for a ‘tidal wave’ of distress
Mortgage companies could face penalties if they don’t take steps to prevent a deluge of foreclosures that threatens to hit the housing market later this year, a U.S. regulator said Thursday.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) warning is tied to forbearance relief that’s allowed millions of borrowers to delay their mortgage payments due to the pandemic. To avoid what the bureau called “avoidable foreclosures” when the relief lapses, mortgage servicers should start reaching out to affected homeowners now to advise them on ways they can modify their loans.
“There is a tidal wave of distressed homeowners who will need help,” Dave Uejio, the CFPB’s acting director, said in a statement. “Servicers who put struggling families first have nothing to fear from our oversight, but we will hold accountable those who cause harm to homeowners and families.”
In a separate compliance bulletin released Thursday, the CFPB said that companies “that are unable to adequately manage loss mitigation can expect the bureau to take enforcement or supervisory action.”
More than 2 million borrowers as of January had either postponed their payments or failed to make them for at least three months, the bureau said. Once government-authorized forbearance plans begin to end in September, hundreds of thousands of people may need assistance getting back on track.
China aims to vaccinate entire city in 5 days after outbreak
A Chinese border city hit by a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 began a five-day drive Friday to vaccinate its entire population of 300,000 people.
State broadcaster CCTV showed people lining up and getting vaccinated in Ruili, where 16 cases have been confirmed since Tuesday. Twelve of them are Chinese and the other four are nationals of Myanmar, which lies across the border.
China has largely eradicated local transmission of COVID-19 and quickly rolls out strict measures whenever a new cluster emerges, but this is the first time China has tried to vaccinate an entire city in response to new outbreak.
Fully vaccinated can travel again, says new CDC guidance
Add travel to the activities vaccinated Americans can enjoy again, according to new U.S. guidance issued Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward. The update reinforces the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and is another incentive for people to get vaccinated.
According to the CDC, nearly 100 million people in the U.S. — or about 30% of the population — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine.
Vaccine trickle becomes torrent as U.S. eligibility rules widen
Eligibility is opening to millions of people across the U.S. and vaccines are starting to stream into people’s arms.
President Joe Biden staked his bid on an effective battle against the coronavirus that would center on mitigation measures and assisting states with the swift dispersal of vaccines. States are offering shots to millions of people who want to return to life as it was before COVID-19, and officials in charge are reporting that the campaign is rounding into form.
The progress offers hope that most adults will be vaccinated this summer before attention shifts to children. Positive data from partners Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE this week could position 12- to 15-year-olds for a shot before the next school year.
Good Friday and virus lockdown empty Manila’s streets
Filipinos marked Good Friday, one of the most solemn holidays in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, with deserted streets and churches following a strict lockdown to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
Major highways and roads were eerily quiet after religious gatherings were prohibited in metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces. The government placed the bustling region of more than 25 million people back under lockdown this week as it scrambled to contain an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.
The Philippines has imposed some of the world’s longest police- and military-enforced coronavirus quarantines and lockdowns, which caused the economy last year to contract by 9.5%, the worst economic setback since the Philippines began issuing such economic data just after World War II.
It has started to reopen the battered economy after infections began to taper off and allowed non-essential businesses to resume, including shopping malls, video game arcades and beauty shops, to ease unemployment and hunger. But infections surged back alarmingly last month.
Israel’s dilemma: Can the unvaccinated return to workplaces?
After spending much of the past year in lockdown, Tel Aviv makeup artist Artyom Kavnatsky was ready to get back to work. But when he showed up for a recent photo shoot, his employer turned him away. The reason? He had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“He didn’t take me because I didn’t get vaccinated,” Kavnatsky said. “It’s discrimination, and it’s not all right.”
The breakneck pace of Israel’s vaccination drive has made it one of the few countries able to return to much of its pre-pandemic routine. Bars and businesses, hotels and health clubs have all sprung back to life in Israel, where some 80% of the adult population is fully vaccinated and new infections and COVID-19 deaths have plummeted.
While Israel provides a glimpse of what may be possible with high immunization rates, it also offers insight into the problems that lie ahead: Workplaces and schools are now grappling with what to do with those who refuse to get vaccinated as the next phase in the pandemic again pits public health concerns against individual rights and possibly new questions of equity. One case has already ended up in court, and others are expected to.
Italy may be in Easter lockdown, but the party’s on at sea
Italy may be in a strict coronavirus lockdown this Easter with travel restricted between regions and new quarantines imposed. But a few miles offshore, guests aboard the MSC Grandiosa cruise ship are shimmying to Latin music on deck and sipping cocktails by the pool.
In one of the anomalies of lockdowns that have shuttered hotels and resorts around the world, the Grandiosa has been plying the Mediterranean Sea this winter with seven-night cruises, a lonely flag-bearer of the global cruise industry.
Grandiosa has tried to chart a course through the pandemic with strict anti-virus protocols approved by Italian authorities that seek to create a “health bubble” on board.
Passengers and crew are tested before and during cruises. Mask mandates, temperature checks, contact-tracing wristbands and frequent cleaning of the ship are all designed to prevent outbreaks.
UK bans travel from 4 more nations over virus; 39 in all
The British government is gearing up to ban international arrivals from four more countries — Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan and the Philippines — amid concerns over new virus variants but opted against including France and other European nations that are facing a resurgence of the virus.
The Department for Transport said Friday that the number of countries on its “red list” will reach 39 when the latest restrictions take effect in England beginning April 9. The other nations of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have similar lists to those that apply in England.
Under the terms of the travel bans, international visitors who have departed from or traveled through countries on the list in the preceding 10 days are refused entry into England. Countries on the list include Brazil and South Africa, where two of the most concerning virus variants have been identified.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Washington health officials are planning for "Vax Day" — and fearing a fourth wave. In Washington's race between vaccines and variants, both competitors look like they're picking up speed.
For a preview of the feared next wave, look to Michigan, where health officials are reeling as they record more than 5,600 new COVID-19 cases per day. Track the spread of the virus with these graphics.
Which vaccine should teens be getting, and when will vaccines arrive for younger kids? Our FAQ explores the vital steps that may bring the pandemic to an end.
Can businesses and governments require vaccinations? The answer may be found in the story of what happened when one mild-mannered preacher answered the knock on his door in 1902.
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