Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, April 23, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Biden administration is bringing attention to the country’s now ample supply of Paxlovid, a life-saving COVID-19 antiviral treatment that at one point had to be rationed.

The treatment has reduced hospitalizations and deaths by 90% among people most likely to get severely ill when administered within five days of symptoms appearing.

While many states and districts are making mask-wearing optional, many immunocompromised people remain on high alert as the highly transmissible omicron subvariant known as BA.2 accounts for most cases recently reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s chief medical officer is advising people to get vaccinated, boosted and continue to wear a mask in public spaces. People traveling should book direct flights if possible and continue to wear a mask on airplanes and during periods of transition, the chief medical officer said.

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

How many California lives were saved by COVID-19 vaccines? Scientists have an answer

LOS ANGELES — The arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020 marked the start of a new, safer phase of the pandemic.

For all that we know of life in the vaccine era — the inequities, the breakthrough infections, the partisan battles over mandates — it’s been hard to know what life would have been like without the shots.

A new project from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health draws the clearest picture to date on what the state might have looked like had the vaccines never materialized.

In the first 10 months of their availability, COVID-19 vaccines prevented an estimated 1.5 million coronavirus infections, nearly 73,000 hospitalizations, and almost 20,000 deaths in California, according to a study published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Read the story here.

—Los Angeles Times
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Want to go to a wedding, but still worried about the pandemic? An expert explains how

BALTIMORE — After a court ruling struck down a federal mask mandate, many airlines and state transit systems made the face coverings an optional defense against COVID-19.

It’s one more decision people will have to make on their own as they increasingly return to in-person work, commute by bus or train, or travel on planes to spring events such as weddings and family reunions.

“When it comes to events, especially those that are somewhat voluntary that we have to make decisions on such as weddings, anniversary parties, bar mitzvahs, what should we do?” said Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease expert at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, during a Johns Hopkins University-led webinar Tuesday.

Read the story here.

—The Baltimore Sun

With mask order lifted, few options for bus riders with health worries

Riding the bus is a risk for Joanne Daniels-Finegold, but the 69-year-old wheelchair user with asthma, kidney problems and a blood-clotting disorder has no other way to get to the grocery store, her doctor’s office or a weekend job greeting people at a farmers market in suburban Boston.

“If I have to go somewhere, I have no choice,” she said.

Like many medically vulnerable people, Daniels-Finegold now must take that risk without the protection of a mandatory mask policy after a federal judge in Florida voided a nationwide requirement on planes, trains, buses and other modes of public transportation. Over the past week, mask mandates have been revoked on transit systems across the United States, including in places like Boston and D.C. that recently have seen rising case numbers and elevated levels of community spread.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Rio’s Carnival parade returns after long pandemic hiatus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Colorful floats and flamboyant dancers are delighting tens of thousands jammed into Rio de Janeiro's iconic Sambadrome, putting on a delayed Carnival celebration after the pandemic halted the dazzling displays.

Rio de Janeiro’s top samba schools began strutting their stuff late Friday, which was the first evening of the two-night spectacle.

“These two years were horrible. Now we can be happy again,” Melo said as she was about to enter Friday night wearing a black and white costume made of shells that barely covered her body.

Rio's Sambadrome has been home to the parade since the 1980s, and is a symbol of Brazil's Carnival festivities. During the pandemic, it was a shelter for more than 400 homeless people and also served as a vaccination station.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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LA County homeless deaths surged during the first year of the pandemic, driven by drug overdoses

LOS ANGELES — Deaths of homeless people in Los Angeles County soared by 56% in the year after the start of the pandemic, driven primarily by an increase in overdoses, according to a study published this month.

Between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, 1,988 deaths of people experiencing homelessness were reported, up from 1,271 in the 12 months prior, pre-pandemic, according to the Department of Public Health study.

The numbers in L.A. County mirror figures recorded in San Francisco over a similar time period; between March 2020 and March 2021, 331 homeless people died in the city, more than twice the amount reported in any previous year, according to a study by the University of San Francisco.

“The findings in this report reflect a true state of emergency on the streets across our County,” First District Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a release. “In a civil society, it is unacceptable for any of us to not be profoundly disturbed by the shocking needs documented in this year’s homeless mortality report.”

In the year surveyed, 179 homeless people died of COVID-19, accounting for about a quarter of the increase in overall deaths from the year prior.

Still, a surge in fatal overdoses was the primary driver of the increase.

Read the story here.

—The Los Angeles Times

Routine childhood vaccinations have fallen behind during the pandemic

Kindergartners in the United States fell behind on routine childhood vaccinations during the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, a slide that experts attributed to skipped checkups and to a groundswell of resistance to COVID-19 shots spilling into unease about other vaccines.

During the 2020-21 school year, about 94% of kindergartners had the required vaccines, a drop of roughly 1 percentage point from the previous school year, the CDC said. That pulled coverage levels below the target of 95%, raising fears that life-threatening childhood illnesses like measles could at some point become more prevalent.

“This means there are 35,000 more children in the United States during this time period without documentation of complete vaccination against common diseases,” Dr. Georgina Peacock, acting director of the CDC’s immunization services division, said Thursday.

Enrollment in kindergarten had also fallen by around 10%, Peacock said, meaning that about 400,000 additional children who had been expected to start school but did not may also have fallen behind on routine vaccinations.

CDC scientists emphasized that extra barriers to reporting vaccination data during the pandemic, including reduced staffing and difficulties collecting information from parents, could also have artificially lowered recorded coverage levels in some places.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

New book exposes the people who got rich while Americans got sick during the pandemic

A new book is shining a light on pandemic profiteers.

It's true that one notable silver lining of the scourge that swept the world two years ago was the way we cohered. We gathered to bang pots for health-care workers. We sang arias from our balconies and donned Fauci T-shirts. We quarantined for ourselves, yes, but also for the collective good. We were in this together, right?

Nope.

J. David McSwane’s revelatory “Pandemic, Inc.: Chasing the Capitalists and Thieves Who Got Rich While We Got Sick” will make whatever guilt you may harbor for hoarding toilet paper pale next to the deeds of a network of dodgy scammers and profiteers who, as McSwane puts it, “did insane things to get rich while our nation suffered an incalculable loss of life and global standing.”

During those initial terrifying weeks of the pandemic, when no one knew just how dangerous the novel coronavirus was, the United States found that the federal stockpiles to combat the outbreak were a tiny fraction of what was needed. Supplies of every kind were scarce, especially personal protective equipment (don’t forget the health-care workers’ PPE of last resort – garbage bags).

In short order, the 3M N95 mask was so sought after, McSwane points out, that “it became perhaps the most enduring symbol of this most painful year.”

And it was during those first weeks that McSwane, a reporter for the investigative news organization ProPublica, boarded a private jet at Dulles International Airport to tag along with Robert Stewart Jr., the Bible-toting chief executive of an outfit called Federal Government Experts, LLC. Stewart was awarded a $34.5 million no-bid contract to supply 6 million N95 masks to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs the largest hospital system in the United States.

Never mind that Stewart had zero experience procuring or selling medical gear.

Read the story here.

—Katie Hafner, The Washington Post
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Experts suggest a slow return to running when recovering from long COVID

Elise McDonnell was slowly trying to return to running after contracting the coronavirus in August.

“I was constantly having to stop and huff and puff,” said McDonnell, 41, a high-altitude ultrarunner from Fort Collins, Colorado, about returning to a trail she had run “a million times.” But McDonnell struggled with each step and had to turn back.

At first, the nurse, who was vaccinated, did not think much about her shortness of breath. By November, she was slowly alternating a couple of good running days with ones “where I felt like I was coming apart,” she said, and was using a long-acting albuterol inhaler prescribed by her primary care doctor, which gave some relief.

Her heart was also beating faster, she said, something she hadn’t been concerned with early in her bout with COVID-19, thinking that it was because of her illness. “My heart rate was so high, even at rest. It was getting high just from my getting up from the couch,” McDonnell said. “And I just wasn’t listening to myself.”

McDonnell’s doctor suggested she visit the Center for Post-COVID Care and Recovery, which was established in spring 2021 at National Jewish Health in Denver. In January, researchers there found through exercise testing that COVID-19 alters how cells function in some people. Their study concluded that mitochondria — often known as the powerhouse of cells responsible for generating energy — did not function properly in patients with post-COVID syndrome, more generally known as long COVID, a term for symptoms that linger for weeks and months after a coronavirus infection.

The study suggested that many of those tested had fatigue out of proportion to work rate or the intensity of the exercise, said one of its co-authors, J. Tod Olin, a pulmonologist and director of the National Jewish Health Exercise & Performance Breathing Center. 

Read the story here.

—Jill Rothenberg, The Washington Post

Efforts to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 is losing steam; consequences could prove severe

In the middle of last year, the World Health Organization began promoting an ambitious goal, one it said was essential for ending the pandemic: fully vaccinate 70% of the population in every country against COVID-19 by June 2022.

Now, it is clear that the world will fall far short of that target by the deadline. And there is a growing sense of resignation among public health experts that high COVID vaccination coverage may never be achieved in most lower-income countries, as badly needed funding from the United States dries up and both governments and donors turn to other priorities.

“The reality is that there is a loss of momentum,” said Dr. Isaac Adewole, a former health minister of Nigeria who now serves as a consultant for the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only a few of the world’s 82 poorest countries — including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal — have reached the 70% vaccination threshold. Many are under 20%, according to data compiled from government sources by the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

By comparison, about two-thirds of the world’s richest countries have reached 70%. (The United States is at 66%.)

The consequences of giving up on achieving high vaccination coverage worldwide could prove severe. Public health experts say that abandoning the global effort could lead to the emergence of dangerous new variants that would threaten the world’s precarious efforts to live with the virus.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

The kids are not OK; as pandemic lingers, Alaska's children struggle and help is hard to find

Alaska’s teens are struggling — and the help they need isn’t always easy to find.

The problems are wide-ranging. They include limited options for Alaskans seeking treatment for eating disorders, fewer beds for psychiatric care and long waitlists for counselors and therapists, especially for those specializing in the treatment of young people.

Many of these challenges existed long before the pandemic: Data from 2019, the last year the state’s annual Youth Behavior Risk Survey was conducted, showed that out of 1,875 respondents in 39 schools, about a quarter had seriously considered suicide and 19% had attempted suicide.

Now, the emotional strain of a pandemic that’s led to more isolation and remote learning is adding a new layer of pressure on Alaska’s youths.

The Daily News invited readers to share the experiences of Alaska teens and youths facing mental health struggles, and what it was like seeking help.

We heard from young Alaskans and their loved ones who described challenges around talking about their mental health, accessing therapists, dealing with life during a pandemic, and working through major life challenges before and after COVID-19.

Read the story here.

—Annie Berman, Anchorage Daily News
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Race-based medical tests puts Black prison inmates at COVID risk

Last month, a federal judge in New Jersey considered the plea of an inmate who claimed his kidney problems made COVID-19 especially dangerous for him. The man, Maurice McPhatter, 49, was one of more than 20,000 federal prisoners who have sought early release during the pandemic. Thousands have been freed through that process.

McPhatter, who was serving a 10-year sentence for drug trafficking, explained in a handwritten letter that he was born with only one kidney and now had a large kidney stone. Results from a blood test scored McPhatter’s kidney function as low.

But then the judge, Kevin McNulty, did something that sunk McPhatter’s chances of early release. The prison medical records contained instructions that kidney test scores for African Americans should be adjusted, using a decades-old formula that drew a distinction between races. McPhatter is Black, and the resulting “race adjustment” put his score on the healthy side of a commonly used threshold for chronic kidney disease.

“He is at no particular risk of a dangerous COVID infection,” the judge concluded in his decision March 23, denying McPhatter’s application.

But the formula McNulty used to make his decision has been discarded by a growing number of health care institutions and experts who say it can lead to misdiagnoses and inequitable care for Black patients.

Read the story here.

—Joseph Goldstein, The New York Times

COVID-19 sinks yet another cruise vacation; Hawaii-bound passengers fall ill

Scores of passengers aboard the Ruby Princess cruise ship became sick with COVID-19 on a San Francisco to Hawaii voyage that ended last week and followed a trip to Panama in which dozens of passengers also were stricken with the virus on the same ship.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health said 143 passengers aboard the Ruby Princess’ San Francisco to Hawaii round trip that ended April 11 tested positive for the virus, nearly twice as many as the 73 reported sick with COVID-19 after the ship’s March 27 return to San Francisco from Panama.

“It was quite clear that there were a large percentage of passengers that were sick, but unless you self-reported, you were free to keep going and infect other passengers,” said Ted Vomacka of Antioch, who said he was among the passengers who tested positive on the ship and was forced to quarantine in separate quarters from from his wife, Larisa, who eventually tested positive after they returned home.

Vomacka and other passengers said they weren’t told about the outbreak as it was spreading on board, and there were no screening tests for the virus to identify other potentially infected passengers without symptoms.

Read the story here.

—John Woolfolk, Bay Area News Group

Beijing on alert, closes school, after students test positive for coronavirus

BEIJING — Beijing is on alert after 10 middle school students tested positive for COVID-19, in what city officials said was an initial round of testing.

City officials suspended classes in the school for a week following the positive test results on Friday. The Chinese capital also reported four other confirmed cases that day that were counted separately.

Mainland China reported 24,326 new community-transmitted infections on Saturday, with the vast majority of them asymptomatic cases in Shanghai, where enforcement of a strict “zero-COVID” strategy has drawn global attention.

China has doubled down on the approach even in face of the highly transmissible omicron variant. The zero-COVID policy warded off many deaths and widespread outbreaks when faced with less transmissible variants through mass testing and strict lockdowns where people could not leave their homes.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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NYC goes after teachers who provided false vaccination cards

NEW YORK — The New York City Department of Education this week notified dozens of school employees that they would be placed on unpaid leave effective Monday, after it said law enforcement alerted the department that they had provided false proof of coronavirus vaccination.

Law enforcement and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District are investigating the matter, according to Nathaniel Styer, a spokesperson for the Education Department.

“Fraudulent vaccination cards are not only illegal, they also undermine the best line of protection our schools have against COVID-19: universal adult vaccination,” Styer said. “We immediately moved to put those employees — fewer than 100 — on leave without pay.”

The department would not reveal what evidence it had relied on to determine that the cards were fake. “If they have proof that they are vaccinated, they can show it,” Styer said.

Read the story here.

—Lola Fadula, The New York Times