Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, April 22, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

While the country remains divided over how to deal with the next phase of the pandemic, the Biden administration continues to weigh its next steps in a high-stakes court battle over a federal district judge’s decision to abruptly end the national mask mandate on mass transit and airplanes.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization shared that the number of COVID-19 cases reported globally decreased by nearly 25% last week.

But according to the WHO weekly report, the U.S. topped the list of countries reporting the highest numbers of new deaths last week. The U.S. reported 3,076, followed by Russia which reported 1,784 new deaths.

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

US begins phasing out COVID-driven asylum restrictions

The Biden administration said Friday it has begun phasing out use of a pandemic-related rule that allows migrants to be expelled without an opportunity to seek asylum as 22 states fight in court to preserve the policy.

U.S. authorities have processed more single adults from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in recent weeks under immigration laws, which include a right to seek asylum, said Blas Nuñez-Neto, acting assistant Homeland Security secretary for border and immigration policy. The pandemic-related rule is set to expire May 23.

Nuñez-Neto’s statement was part of a filing in federal court in Lafayette, Louisiana, where Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri sued this month to keep the rule. Eighteen other states later joined and, on Thursday, the states asked a judge to stop what they called the “premature implementation” of the end of the rule.

Nuñez-Neto said applying non-health related immigration laws was “not novel” during the pandemic and that increasing use of them on single adults from Central American countries will help prepare for the May 23 expiration.

Read the full story here.

— Kevin McGill, The Associated Press
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Mask mandates return to US college campuses as cases rise

The final weeks of the college school year have been disrupted yet again by COVID-19 as universities bring back mask mandates, switch to online classes and scale back large gatherings in response to upticks in coronavirus infections.

Colleges in Washington, D.C., New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Texas have reimposed a range of virus measures, with Howard University moving to remote learning amid a surge in cases in the nation’s capital.

This is the third straight academic year that has been upended by COVID-19, meaning soon-to-be seniors have yet to experience a normal college year.

“I feel like last summer it was everyone was like, ‘Oh, this is it. We’re nearing the tail end,’” recalled Nina Heller, a junior at American University in Washington D.C., where administrators brought back a mask mandate about a month after lifting it. “And then that didn’t quite happen, and now we’re here at summer again, and there’s kind of no end.”

Mandates were shed widely in the wake of spring break as case numbers dropped following a winter surge fueled by the omicron variant. But several Northeast cities have seen a rise in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, as the BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant continues to rapidly spread throughout the U.S.

“As much as we would like to move on and think that the pandemic is over, and I think we all would like that to happen at this point, it’s wishful thinking,” said Anita Barkin, co-chair of a COVID-19 task force for the American College Health Association. “The pandemic is still with us.”

Read the story here.

—Ashraf Khalil and Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press

Afraid to fly with unmasked passengers? Call your airline

Airlines say they are offering options — including refunds in some cases — for people worried about flying now that other passengers aren’t required to wear face masks.

However, the airlines aren’t providing many details. Customers could find themselves at the mercy of workers at airline customer-service centers.

Many people who will be flying in the next few weeks bought their tickets before a federal judge in Florida on Monday struck down the requirement to wear a mask in airports and during flights. That requirement, designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, was due to expire anyway on May 3.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said his airline will be flexible with people who have a weak immune system or are concerned about mask-optional flying for any other reason.

Read the full story here.

—David Koenig, The Associated Press

Shanghai easing virus rules, Hong Kong ending entry ban

Officials in Shanghai promised Friday to ease anti-virus controls on truck drivers that are hampering food supplies and trade, while Hong Kong’s government announced the end of a 2-year-old ban on non-residents flying into the city as its outbreak fades.

Streets in Shanghai were largely empty despite an easing of restrictions that confined most of its 25 million people to their homes. Many residents still were barred from leaving their neighborhoods.

A deputy mayor, Zhang Wei, promised “every effort” to resolve problems that prompted complaints about lack of food and fears the shutdown of China’s most populous city might disrupt global trade.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government said non-residents who are vaccinated and have a negative virus test will be allowed to fly in again starting May 1. That eases one of the world’s most stringent travel bans, imposed in March 2020.

An outbreak that infected some 1.2 million people in the city of 7.4 million and killed almost 9,000 appeared to be fading. Hong Kong Disneyland and museums reopened this week and restaurants resumed evening dining as new daily case numbers fell.

Read the story here.

—Joe McDonald, The Associated Press
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State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,492 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 2,308 on Thursday. It also reported seven more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,483,332 cases and 12,657 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. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

According to DOH, case counts are "elevated" due to a backlog ranging from Sept. 11 to April 21.

In addition, 59,916 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 101 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 388,271 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,719 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,508,043 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 13,454 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

California will keep workplace pandemic rules through 2022

California workplace regulators on Thursday extended mandatory pay for workers affected by the coronavirus through the end of 2022, acting more than two months after state lawmakers restored similar benefits through September.

The decision again pitted management against labor as the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board renewed revised workplace safety rules that would otherwise have expired in early May.

“I don’t think we’re done with this yet,” board chairman David Thomas said of the pandemic. “There’s going to be a surge in a week or so. This is the best … protection we have.”

Laura Stock, an occupational safety representative on the board, echoed employee advocates who lobbied board members to continue special protections for workers even as health officials ease mask, quarantine and other requirements for the general public.

Unlike members of the public who can choose their own risk tolerance, Stock said, “people who are in the workplace … have no choice but to be there.”

Read the story here.

—Don Thompson, The Associated Press

Boston urges masks as battle brews over transit rule

Boston urged people to start wearing masks Thursday and the Biden administration weighed its next legal step in what is shaping up to be a high-stakes court fight over the abrupt end of the national mask mandate on airplanes and mass transit.

The Boston Public Health Commission noted a rise in hospitalizations, as well as a 65% increase in cases and an even larger spike in COVID-19 levels in local wastewater samples. It also stressed that the guidance was merely a recommendation, not an order.

The country is wrestling with how to deal with the next phase of the pandemic and find the right balance in enacting health measures at a time when many Americans are ready to move on after two exhausting years.

A federal judge in Florida this week threw out a national mask mandate on mass transportation, and airlines and airports responded swiftly Monday by repealing their requirements that passengers wear face coverings. That put the Biden administration in the position of trying to navigate an appeal that could have sweeping ramifications over the power that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has in regulating future health emergencies.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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How we know that masks, even the cloth ones, reduce the spread of COVID-19

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the public debate on masks is as heated as ever — especially in Philadelphia, which earned national attention for once again requiring masks in indoor public spaces and then undoing that rule days later.

Yet in the realm of science, there is plenty of evidence to support using the face coverings. Researchers who study airborne transmission of viruses say there is no question that masks — even the cloth variety — reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Exactly how much depends on the type of material, how well the mask fits, and how many virus particles an infected person is shedding, among other factors. No mask is bulletproof, but that’s not a reason to reject them entirely. No infection-control measure is absolute, short of complete isolation.

That’s why public health officials have stressed multiple layers of protection: masks, social distancing, and, above all, vaccines. If one layer fails, another may do the trick.

Some physicians have questioned whether a universal mask requirement is appropriate at this stage of the pandemic, for reasons we’ll get to below. But that question might be harder to answer, at least by science alone.

Read the story here.

—Tom Avril, The Philadelphia Inquirer

How a single judge’s ruling upended national COVID policy

For more than a year, a little-known group called the Health Freedom Defense Fund has been working to roll back vaccine and mask mandates all over the country, often filing lawsuits one community at a time — from a tiny town in Idaho to the Los Angeles Unified School District and beyond.

The group, created last year by a former Wall Street executive turned anti-vaccine activist to advocate for “bodily autonomy,” saw mixed results, with some local officials bending under the pressure and others winning efforts to dismiss lawsuits they viewed as coming from a fringe organization.

Until this week.

The decision Monday by a federal judge in Florida to invalidate the government-imposed mask mandate on public transportation handed the group a major legal victory, instantly upending national policy and setting off a cascade of reactions that reflected the impact on millions of Americans.

Within hours of the decision, airline passengers were flooding social media with videos of joyously maskless travelers, surprised government officials were offering conflicting guidance, and businesses and other members of the public were struggling to make sense of what it all meant.

The political and legal earthquake that emanated Monday from the Tampa chambers of U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle provided the latest example of how an individual jurist — and a single lawsuit, seemingly filed in the right place at the right time — can alter the course of public policy. It is a practice that became more common at the end of the Obama administration and accelerated during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Read the story here.

—Hannah Sampson, Ann E. Marimow and Yasmeen Abutaleb, The Washington Post

Prom season kicks off with a COVID superspreader

Nearly 90 San Mateo High School students have tested positive for COVID-19 after attending prom earlier this month, according to school officials.

The school held its prom April 9 at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. As of 11 a.m. Thursday, about 90 of the nearly 600 students who attended the event had tested positive for the coronavirus disease, said San Mateo Union High School District spokesperson Laura Chalkley.

Parker Del Balso was one of the students who tested positive, according to ABC7 News. In an interview with the news station, Parker said she had a sore throat for a couple of days and was congested.

“Overall, I think it was worth it. It was a great, fun time,” Parker told ABC7 News.

The district on May 5 will consider mitigation strategies at other proms next month.

Read the story here.

—Jason Green, Bay Area News Group
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Philadelphia drops short-lived mask mandate, claims victory

People in Philadelphia could be excused if they felt a sense of whiplash Friday as the city abandoned its indoor mask mandate just days after becoming the first big U.S. city to reimpose compulsory masking in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

City officials who had previously stressed the need to head off a new wave of coronavirus infections by requiring people to mask up indoors abruptly called it off after what they said was an unexpected drop in the number of people in the hospital.

The city had taken plenty of heat for the renewed masking order, with two of the three leading Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat expressing opposition to it at a debate Thursday night.

The restaurant industry complained that workers would bear the brunt of customer anger over the new rules, while several businesses and residents filed suit in state court to get it thrown out. Few masks were worn at a Philadelphia 76ers’ home playoff game this week.

City officials insisted their decision to rescind the mandate just days after it had gone into effect on Monday was based on the numbers, even though daily fluctuations are common.

Hospitalizations peaked at 82 on Sunday and have since drifted down, to 65 on Thursday, according to the Department of Public Health. New confirmed infections reached a peak of 377 on April 14 but have since leveled off.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Stephen Colbert gets COVID, ‘Late Show’ canceled: ‘I will do anything to avoid interviewing Jason Bateman’

Stephen Colbert tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, canceling the night’s episode of “The Late Show.”

Colbert, 57, said that he felt fine and had received three vaccine doses.

“I tested positive for COVID, but basically I’m feeling fine — grateful to be vaxxed and boosted,” the comedian wrote in a tweet. “Thank you for the well wishes.”

“The Late Show” had planned to air reruns from Friday through May 1, so the only episode that was affected was Thursday’s, the show said in a tweet.

Colbert was scheduled to interview “Ozark” co-stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney on Thursday night.

“This just proves that I will do anything to avoid interviewing Jason Bateman,” Colbert joked.

Read the story here.

—Joseph Wilkinson, New York Daily News

How to reduce risk in a mask-optional world: CDC’s top COVID-19 doctor has tips for travelers

Your bags are packed, you’re ready to go. You’re standing there, outside your door. And you’re thinking, “If I catch COVID-19 on this trip, I could get seriously ill or die.”

You got a fresh N95 respirator for the trip. And you were counting on most of your fellow travelers to cover their noses and mouths too: the driver of your ride-share, the people in the airport, and passengers packed tightly inside the plane.

But this week, a federal judge in Tampa, Florida, issued an order that voided the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask mandate for those on public transportation. That means you’re likely to be surrounded by maskless faces.

The most transmissible strain of the coronavirus yet — the BA. 2 subvariant of omicron — dominates the landscape now.

Now what do you do? Dr. John Brooks, the CDC’s chief medical officer for the COVID-19 response, has some practical advice:

— Arm yourself. Get vaccinated, and if you’re fully vaccinated, get boosted. If you’ve had two or three shots of Pfizer’s Comirnaty or Moderna’s SpikeVax vaccine and it’s been four months since your last shot, another dose is advised. Give yourself a week or so for another jab to refresh your immune system’s supply of antibodies.

— Do wear your mask, and make sure it’s a good one. 

— Mind the transitions, and take a direct flight if you can. 

— Reserve a window seat, board last, and sit near the front so you can deplane quickly. 

Read the story here.

—Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times
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Thailand ends mandatory quarantine for vaccinated visitors

Visitors to Thailand who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will no longer need to undergo any test or quarantine on arrival starting May 1, a measure the authorities hope will help rejuvenate the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

Under the new rules announced by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, unvaccinated travelers will still have to provide proof of negative results from a RT-PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.

All visitors still must register with an online “Thailand Pass” system and provide proof of health insurance with coverage of at least $10,000 for COVID-19 treatment.

Under the current arrival scheme known as “Test and Go,” even fully vaccinated travelers have been required to take RT-PCR tests upon arrival and then stay in a government-approved hotel for one night until the results are known. On the fifth day of their stay. a self-administered rapid antigen test has been required.

The Public Health Ministry on Friday announced 21,808 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 128 related fatalities, bringing the totals since the pandemic began in 2020 to 4,128,038 cases and 27,520 deaths.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Uneasy flying without mask mandate? Some airlines may refund your ticket

Flying is rife with uncertainty after a federal judge threw out a federal mask mandate for airline passengers, only to have the federal government decide to appeal the ruling.

Hesitant fliers seeking to cancel travel plans and get a refund won’t get much more clarity.

If flying without a mask mandate makes you nervous, some airlines will offer you a refund. Others won’t give you a break unless you have a refundable ticket, and some carriers say they will deal with refund demands on a case-by-case basis.

The federal mask mandate that was adopted last year was set to expire May 3. But when a federal judge in Florida voided the rule Monday, many airlines, airports and car-hailing services such as Uber quickly lifted the mask regulation, making mask-wearing optional.

United Airlines Chief Executive Scott Kirby told the “Today” show Thursday that his carrier would be flexible with passengers who refuse to fly and demand a refund on a nonrefundable ticket.

“For customers like that, that are immunocompromised or that have other concerns or issues, we are working with those customers if they don’t want to fly,” he said.

United Airlines spokesperson Josh Freed clarified in an email that passengers who have “special circumstances” should call the customer service phone number. “We’ll work with them to find the best solution for them,” Freed said.

Read the story here.

—Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times