Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, April 20, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Moderna hopes to offer updated COVID-19 booster shots this fall. The new booster aims to target the highly contagious omicron variant, according to company officials.

Moderna was previously studying a combination shot containing added protections against the earlier beta variant. People who received that shot produced more antibodies capable of fighting several variants, including omicron, the company said.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a new center this week that will serve as an early warning system to help guide the U.S. response to COVID-19 and future pandemics.

In light of a federal court ruling that struck down the nationwide mask mandate on airlines and transit, local public transportation agencies on Monday and Tuesday began rolling back their requirements that riders wear face coverings. Our guide outlines what you need to know about changing mask rules.

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

Justice Department to appeal order voiding travel mask mandate

The Justice Department is filing an appeal seeking to overturn a judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs, officials said Wednesday.

The notice came minutes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the Justice Department to appeal the decision handed down by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week.

A notice of appeal was filed in federal court in Tampa.

The CDC said in a statement Wednesday that it is its “continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.”

Read the full story here.

—Michael Balsamo and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Some unvaccinated Seattle-area firefighters are pushing to get their jobs back

Some firefighters around the region who left or lost their jobs last year because they wouldn’t comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate are trying to come back — with varying degrees of success.

King County agencies’ decisions, however, have largely remained unchanged. Last week, for example, six Eastside Fire & Rescue firefighters, who weren’t fully vaccinated by the October 2021 deadline lost their jobs after their six-month leaves of absence ended.

The department is “saddened by the loss of some of our firefighters but also deeply respectful of their personal choices,” Chief Jeff Clark said in a statement. Eastside Fire & Rescue provides services to East King County.

Among those who left was Frank Dahlquist, a former captain with Eastside Fire & Rescue, who said he requested a religious exemption. He leads King County Firefighters United, a group he says represents about 100 firefighters in King County who lost their jobs because of the vaccine mandate.

Read the full story here.

—Paige Cornwell

More pandemic fallout: The chronically absent student

After the coronavirus pandemic pushed his classes online in the spring of 2020, Isaac Mosley, now 18, got used to spending his time outside of school.

Isaac, a public school student in Waco, Texas, finished his sophomore year remotely. During his junior year, he worked at a lumber company, where he discovered that he could still be counted as present at school if he carved out some time to check in online.

When he became a senior last fall, his high school fully resumed in-person learning. But Isaac kept working, earning money to support himself and his family while racking up dozens of missed school days and hundreds of missed classes.

Isaac is one of millions of public school students across the United States who is considered chronically absent — often defined as missing 10% of the days in a school year, whether the absences are excused or not.

Read the full story here.

—Jacey Fortin, The New York Times

WA pivots to new ‘path forward’ with less emphasis on COVID case counting

Counting coronavirus cases just isn’t what it used to be.

It’s long been known that many coronavirus infections go unreported. Then the omicron variant blasted off the charts earlier this year — just as rapid, at-home tests became more commonly used (with their positives often going uncounted).

Now state health officials are changing course. When evaluating new public health actions, the state is pushing a renewed focus on tracking severe illness, hospital capacity, deaths and new variants.

That’s despite a recent uptick in confirmed infections. Because the increase hasn’t yet translated to an increase in severe illness or deaths — and omicron’s infectious subvariant, BA.2, appears to be fairly mild — keeping track of individual cases is becoming less important, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said in a news briefing.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama

Norway is open to 4th COVID-19 shot to people over 80

Norwegian health authorities said Wednesday they are open to giving people aged 80 and above a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, but see no cause for a general recommendation for that age category to get a fourth shot.

Geir Bukholm, assistant director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said the agency “believes this can be assessed and chosen by the individual.”

However, the agency urged more people with severely weakened immune systems to take a booster shot of the vaccine.

The agency said the updated assessment was in line with guidelines by the European Infection Control Agency and the European Medicines Agency.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 582 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 1,156 on Tuesday. It also reported 24 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to1,479,559 cases and 12,650 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. Tuesday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In addition, 59,815 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 20 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 386,682 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,714 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 12,481,023 doses and 67.8% 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 13,457 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.

—Amanda Zhou

Cyprus to further ease use of COVID certificates, masks

Cyprus is further winding down the compulsory use of COVID-19 vaccination certificates and face masks as the country’s virus numbers continue to improve.

Health Minister Michael Hadjipantela announced Wednesday that as of May 15, vaccination and recovery certificates will no longer be required to enter most places. Also on the same day, unvaccinated people considered as close contacts of people infected with the coronavirus will no longer have to self-isolate.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Masks off: Spain relaxes face covering rules for indoors

Spain took another step Wednesday toward a sense of normality amid the pandemic by partially ending the near two-year-long obligatory use of masks indoors.

The government decree, passed Tuesday, keeps masks mandatory for visitors and staff in medical centers and nursing homes, although patients won’t always be obliged to wear them. Masks will also be mandatory on all forms of public transportation, but not in stations or airports.

It remains unclear what impact the decree will have on workplaces such as public and private company offices, banks, factories and stores, as the government is letting employers decide to keep them in use if they deem there is a health risk.

Read the story here.

—Ciaran Giles, The Associated Press

Are masks still effective even when many aren’t wearing them? What experts say

People seem to be shedding masks at a rate not seen since last June, just before summer’s delta surge.

The odds are good that at least one person on a crowded flight would test positive for the coronavirus. In the UC San Francisco hospital system, for instance, the asymptomatic positivity rate as of Tuesday was about 2% — meaning 1 in 50 people were testing positive despite not showing any signs of illness, according to Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the university’s Department of Medicine.

Applying that same ratio to a flight with 150 passengers would mean there’s a “95% chance that at least one passenger has COVID,” he noted on Twitter. San Francisco, Wachter added, “has a relatively low COVID rate, so odds on a U.S. flight today are likely worse.”

So what do experts say about when and where it makes sense to don a mask?

Many stress that face coverings still offer strong protection against the coronavirus and that masking up still makes sense — even if wearing them is no longer mandatory.

Unlike early in the pandemic, when even blue surgical masks were scarce, there are plenty of high-quality respirators, such as KF94, KN95 and N95 masks, widely available. Officials say such masks provide a good layer of protection against infection, along with other measures, such as getting up to date on vaccinations.

Read the story here.

—Rong-Gong Lin II, Emily Alpert Reyes and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times

Why aren’t doctors prescribing anti-COVID medicines?

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in 2020, we were totally unprepared. There were no drugs, no vaccines and not much information on how the virus spread from one person to another.

Now, though, we have a lot more tools to combat this potentially deadly disease. Vaccines were developed in record time and new antiviral medications are now available.

Now, though, these antivirals are sitting on pharmacy shelves. They are no longer in short supply, but doctors are not writing many prescriptions. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Paxlovid “is being underutilized.”

For greatest benefit, such antiviral medications need to be taken early in the course of an infection. That’s also true of oral influenza treatments such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Xofluza (baloxavir).

To keep the virus from replicating and overwhelming the immune system, these drugs should be prescribed as soon as someone tests positive. But that’s not happening consistently.

Why aren’t people excited about these drugs? And why aren’t they being used more frequently?

Read the story here.

—Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon, Syndicated columnists

Feds will appeal mask ruling only if mandate still needed

The Justice Department said Tuesday it will not appeal a federal district judge’s ruling that ended the nation’s federal mask mandate on public transit unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the requirement is still necessary.

In a statement released a day after a Florida judge ended the sweeping mandate, which required face coverings on planes and trains and in transit hubs, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said officials believe that the federal mask order was “a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health.” He said it was “an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.”

Coley said the CDC had said it would continue to assess public health conditions, and if the agency determined a mandate was necessary for public health, the Justice Department would file an appeal.

As of Tuesday, the agency hadn’t made a determination, officials said.

The federal judge’s ruling did away with the last major vestige of federal pandemic rules and led to a mishmash of new locally created rules that reflected the nation’s ongoing divisions over how to battle the virus.

Major airlines and airports in places like Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City quickly switched to a mask-optional policy. Los Angeles County dropped its mandate for mass transit and a train conductor in New Jersey told commuters of their masks Tuesday: “Feel free to burn them at will.”

Read the story here.

—Heather Hollingsworth and Teresa Crawford, The Associated Press

The summer of revenge travel? No one can afford it

Sara Jensen was hoping to get to Germany to visit family this August, her first trip there since 2019, but she nixed the international excursion as flight prices climbed.

Also off the list this summer is a trip from Sacramento to the Midwest to visit friends. As average gas prices hover under $6 per gallon in California, a few other road trips might be on the chopping block, too.

“Two of the trips we planned we won’t be doing,” Jensen said. “We were talking about doing a road trip with our kids, and I don’t even know that it’s going to be cost-effective.”

After the delta variant cooled off “hot vax summer” last year and the omicron surge put holiday travel on ice, many Americans were clinging to the idea of returning to a normal vacation season — or what’s known as “revenge travel.” Instead, pent-up demand for travel, high gas prices and inflation has created the perfect storm.

That has led many travelers to reassess their itineraries, whether it means canceling that overseas trip (again) or trading it for more modest domestic tours.

Read the story here.

—Leigh Giangreco, The Washington Post

Boost now? Boost later? Tricky calculations for a 4th coronavirus shot

Bill and Rudi Weissinger remain COVID-cautious. They’ve had three shots of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. They wear masks at the grocery store and avoid large gatherings. When Bill recently offered a friend a fist-bump rather than a handshake, the friend said, “Oh, still?” Yes is the answer, and most of their friends in San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor are similarly vigilant.

The Weissingers want to get another booster shot. They’re in their mid-70s and eligible. But they also plan to travel to France later this year. Boost now? Boost later?

“Our fear is if we get the booster now, it will have faded by then,” Bill says.

“We definitely believe in the boosters. We are not anti-vaxxers. Give me any shot you can,” Rudi says.

Most Americans aren’t trying to time their next booster for an overseas vacation, and many people in low-wage jobs and crowded multigenerational households are far more exposed than the Weissingers are. But their uncertainty about a fourth shot reflects the widespread confusion about boosters — who exactly should get them, and when, and why — that has dogged the government’s vaccination campaign.

Read the story here.

—Joel Achenbach and Carolyn Y. Johnson, The Washington Post

You don’t have to wear a mask on planes. Do it anyway, experts say.

The federal requirement to mask up on planes and other forms of transportation was tossed Monday by a federal judge in Florida. But health experts say those who want to protect themselves from the coronavirus as cases rise again should continue to cover their faces – with the best possible mask.

“You can quote me on this: I’m going to continue to wear an N95 mask,” said David Freedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “No question. You have no idea who’s on a plane.”

He added: “I think everyone should.”

Freedman and other experts stressed the importance of the coronavirus vaccine and boosters now that travelers will find themselves traveling amid unmasked crowds.

According to Washington Post data, new daily cases over the past week are on the rise while hospitalizations and deaths decline. Before the judge’s ruling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the mandate’s expiration date to May 3 to monitor the new wave.

“It’s not an ideal time right now,” said infectious disease expert John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

Read the story here.

—Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post

Shanghai allows 4 million out of homes as virus rules ease

Shanghai allowed 4 million more people out of their homes Wednesday as anti-virus controls that shut down China’s biggest city eased, while the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast of Chinese economic growth and warned the global flow of industrial goods might be disrupted.

A total of almost 12 million people in the city of 25 million are allowed to go outdoors following the first round of easing last week, health official Wu Ganyu said at a news conference. Wu said the virus was “under effective control” for the first time in some parts of the city.

China’s case numbers in its latest infection surge are relatively low, but the ruling party is enforcing a “zero-COVID” strategy that has shut down major cities to isolate every case.

On Wednesday, the government reported 19,927 new cases in China’s mainland, all but 2,761 of which had no symptoms. Shanghai accounted for 95% of the total, or 18,902 cases, of which 2,495 had symptoms.

Read the story here.

—Joe McDonald, The Associated Press