Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, April 25, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
A federal judged in Florida voided a nationwide mask requirement on planes, trains, buses, and other forms of transportation. This past week, mask mandates on public transit in cities across the country have been revoked, causing some people to rethink the safety of their daily commute.
Meanwhile, enrollment in Washington colleges has plummeted, especially among men, in part because of the pandemic. Educators are still figuring out why enrollment numbers dropped dramatically and why at almost every institution, women outnumber men. The pandemic-caused drop in college enrollment is happening at universities across the nation, and so too is the gender gap, but the issues in Washington seem to run deeper.
In Alaska, teenagers have limited options for eating disorder treatments and psychiatric care. There are long waitlists for counselors, therapists, and those who specialize in treatments for young people. These issues existed before the pandemic, but have worsened as it wears on.
After a two-year hiatus, Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Carnival is back. Sao Paulo also kicked off its Carnival parade this weekend. The parades usually take place in February or March, but mayors in both cities announced they were postponing Carnival by two months because of the omicron variant.
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.
White House: Without funding US will lose COVID treatments
For much of the past two years, America has been first in line for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Now, as drugmakers develop the next generation of therapies, the White House is warning that if Congress doesn’t act urgently the U.S. will have to take a number.
Already the congressional stalemate over virus funding has forced the federal government to curtail free treatment for the uninsured and to ration monoclonal antibody supplies. And Biden administration officials are expressing increasing alarm that the U.S. is also losing out on critical opportunities to secure booster doses and new antiviral pills that could help the country maintain its reemerging sense of normalcy, even in the face of potential new variants and case spikes.
Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hong Kong have all placed orders for treatments and vaccine doses that the U.S. can’t yet commit to, according to the White House.
Months ago, the White House began warning that the country had spent through the money in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that was dedicated directly to COVID-19 response. It requested an additional $22.5 billion for what it called “urgent” needs in both the U.S. and abroad.
King County now has ‘medium’ community level of COVID, per CDC guidance
King County has moved from a “low” community COVID-19 level to “medium,” per federal guidance, as infection rates increase, the county’s top health officer said Monday.
Despite the movement upward within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention community levels, there are no plans to reintroduce past mitigation requirements, such as an indoor masking mandate or vaccine checks.
Case rates have slowly been ticking up in the county since the end of March, after statewide mask mandates came to an end and as omicron’s infectious subvariant, BA. 2, took hold. As of Monday, King County saw a 19% increase in cases compared to the prior week and was averaging a seven-day rate of about 214 new infections per 100,000 people, county health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said during a news conference.
“This was not unanticipated as the more contagious BA. 2 variant spread both locally and nationally,” Duchin said. “… The CDC medium risk category is not a magic threshold meaning the COVID-19 pandemic locally is suddenly or fundamentally different, or that we’re approaching a crisis level. But it does tell us that COVID-19 infection risk is increasing for individuals and the community.”
The expiration date on your COVID rapid tests may have been extended. Here’s how to look up the new one
Did you receive free COVID-19 rapid tests from Washington state or from the federal government? The expiration date listed on the box may no longer be accurate.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month granted a three-month shelf-life extension for iHealth rapid antigen tests. The brand was distributed through Washington Department of Health’s sayyescovidhometest.org program and the federal government’s COVIDTests.gov program.
That means if your free iHealth rapid test has a “use by” date April, the new date has been extended to July, as long as it has been stored between 2 and 30 degrees Celsius (35.6 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the FDA letter detailing the extension.
The company iHealth says it plans to continue to apply for shelf-life extensions every three months based on their studies. To look up the new expiration date, visit ihealthlabs.com/pages/news#expiration and type in the lot number on your tests.
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.
The relaxed rules have some people rethinking the safety of their daily commute — especially those at heightened risk of severe COVID symptoms because they are over 65, have an underlying health condition like asthma or are immunocompromised. Those same issues are top of mind for many bus operators, who endured widespread outbreaks during the omicron surge and had colleagues die of the disease.
Anti-vaccine ideology gains ground as lawmakers seek to erode rules for kids’ shots
Not long ago, Kansas showed strong bipartisan support for vaccines as a tool to support a robust public health system.
But bills with language expanding religious exemptions for childhood vaccine requirements were passed by the state Senate in March and now face the House when the legislature reconvenes this week.
They are among the more than 520 vaccine-related bills introduced in statehouses nationwide since Jan. 1, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those bills, 66 specifically relate to childhood vaccine requirements in 25 states.
In Missouri, for example, legislators are considering a measure exempting private school students from vaccine requirements. In Louisiana, a bill in the House would prohibit vaccinations on school property and at school-sponsored events.
Less than 10% of the bills will likely gain any traction, but the volume of attempts to roll back vaccine requirements is alarming, said Rekha Lakshmanan, director of advocacy and public policy at the Immunization Partnership, a vaccine education organization.
“Those are all chipping away at one of the end goals for anti-vaccine activists, which is completely doing away with school requirements,” said Lakshmanan. “That’s what people need to be paying very close attention to.”
Shanghai erects metal barriers in fight against COVID-19
Volunteers and government workers in Shanghai erected metal barriers in multiple districts to block off small streets and entrances to apartment complexes, as China hardens its strict “zero-COVID” approach in its largest city despite growing complaints from residents.
In the city’s financial district, Pudong, the barriers — thin metal sheets or mesh fences — were put up in several neighborhoods under a local government directive, according to Caixin, a Chinese business media outlet. Buildings where cases have been found sealed up their main entrances, with a small opening for pandemic prevention workers to pass through.
China reported 21,796 new community transmitted COVID-19 infections on Sunday, with the vast majority being asymptomatic cases in Shanghai. Across the country, many cities and provinces have enforced some version of a lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
The pandemic didn’t hit the Tri-Cities’ economy as hard as the rest of the state, study shows
As regional economies begin to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, Tri-Cities leaders are trying to build a road map to take the area from recovery to growth.
The Port of Kennewick recently commissioned a study through Eastern Washington University to assess the overall impact of the pandemic on the economy and households in the Tri-Cities.
The big takeaway from the study is that the economy of the Tri-Cities was particularly resilient, and likely fared better than much of the state.
The study also says that quick federal funding helped businesses stay afloat and residents make ends meet.
“Although economists might have expected firms, especially small businesses, to be more vulnerable to the economic downturn during the pandemic, surprisingly, bankruptcies during the pandemic actually declined, in part due to federal assistance,” the study read.
The worst-hit sectors in the Tri-Cities were hospitality, entertainment and recreation, retail, agriculture and construction. Agricultural work and hospitality work are expected to face challenges throughout 2022.
COVID shots still work but researchers hunt new improvements
COVID-19 vaccinations are at a critical juncture as companies test whether new approaches like combination shots or nasal drops can keep up with a mutating coronavirus — even though it’s not clear if changes are needed.
Already there’s public confusion about who should get a second booster now and who can wait. There’s also debate about whether pretty much everyone might need an extra dose in the fall.
“I’m very concerned about booster fatigue” causing a loss of confidence in vaccines that still offer very strong protection against COVID-19’s worst outcomes, said Dr. Beth Bell of the University of Washington, an adviser to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite success in preventing serious illness and death, there’s growing pressure to develop vaccines better at fending off milder infections, too — as well as options to counter scary variants.
Canada eases COVID travel rules for kids
Unvaccinated children aged five to 11 traveling with a fully vaccinated adult will no longer need a COVID-19 test to enter Canada beginning Monday, the federal government said.
Pre-entry tests will still be needed for partially vaccinated or unvaccinated travelers over the age of 12 who are eligible to travel to Canada.
Children under five years of age don’t currently require a COVID-19 test to enter Canada.
Government officials announced several other small changes to ease restrictions for international travelers taking effect on Monday.
Fully vaccinated travelers, and children under 12 accompanying them, will no longer need to provide their quarantine plans when they enter the country.
Vaccinated people arriving in Canada won’t need to wear a mask for 14 days, keep a list of contacts or report COVID-19 symptoms.
Cities want to return to pre-pandemic life. One obstacle: transit crime
CHICAGO — For months, Anna Balla, 47, tolerated the unruly behavior she says has become commonplace when riding the “L” downtown: smoking, harassment and even a stranger’s uninvited use of her shoulder to vault himself into a spot in a crowded Chicago train.
But it was a ride in March that made her swear off the trains completely. At a busy stop in the heart of the Loop during rush hour, she saw a young shirtless man yanking a woman and hitting her with an empty beer bottle as she cowered and screamed on the platform. Balla bolted from the packed car and fled to the street.
“I was just worried that someone was going to pull out a gun, or if the cops arrived, it would become a shootout,” said Balla, a museum registrar in Chicago. “It had that feel to it.”
Just as a number of major cities are trying to lure people back to formerly bustling downtowns, leaders are confronting transit crime rates that have risen over pre-pandemic levels in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. This month, a shooting on a subway train in Brooklyn injured 23 people. In other cities, stories of violent assaults, muggings and stabbings on buses and trains dominate the evening news and worried conversations in neighborhood apps.
Low ridership has left many passengers saying they feel more vulnerable than before. In Philadelphia, the number of certain serious crimes reported on public transit is higher than before the pandemic, and in New York about equal to previous levels, even though ridership in both places is significantly lower. In other cities, there are fewer crimes being reported than in 2019, but the crime rate is up because there are so few passengers.
The crisis on public transit systems threatens the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic: Restoring confidence in subways, commuter rail and buses, officials say, could help rescue local economies from two years of the doldrums, encourage more workers to return to urban offices and make tourists comfortable moving about cities freely.
AP PHOTOS: Greeks celebrate Easter without restrictions
For the first time in three years, Greeks were able to celebrate Orthodox Easter without the restrictions made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic.
Beyond the obvious religious messages, in Greece, Easter signifies a return to the countryside, often to people’s ancestral homes, and a mass exodus from big cities.
Police and port authorities say that this year’s exodus was significantly higher than that of pre-pandemic 2019.
In 2020, there was a total lockdown; in 2021, some dared leave the cities, often in violation of long-distance travel rules. Police had set up roadblocks on national roads to turn offenders around and impose fines.
This year, churches were full and events fully attended, too. A variety of customs, some predating Christianity, were celebrated locally. Friday evening’s solemn procession of decorated funeral biers, or Epitaphs, once again was fully attended.
Beijing locks down some areas as COVID-19 cases mount
China’s capital, Beijing, began mass testing of more than 3 million people on Monday and restricted residents in one part of the city to their compounds, sparking worries of a wider Shanghai-style lockdown.
While only 70 cases have been found so far in the city of more than 21 million since a new outbreak surfaced Friday, authorities have rolled out strict measures under China’s “zero-COVID” approach to try to prevent a further spread of the virus.
Some residents worked from home and many stocked up on food as a safeguard against the possibility that they could be confined indoors, as has happened in multiple cities, including the financial hub of Shanghai. The city of Anyang in central China and Dandong on the border with North Korea also started lockdowns as the omicron variant spreads across the vast country.
Shanghai, which has been locked down for more than two weeks, reported more than 19,000 new infections and 51 deaths in the latest 24-hour period, pushing its announced death toll from the ongoing outbreak to 138.
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