Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, April 29, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Washington Supreme Court unanimously rejected a recall effort alleging that Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders to limit gatherings and activities during the pandemic to protect public health infringed on people’s rights.
The justices upheld a previous Thurston County Superior Court decision stating that the charges the citizen group presented against Inslee did not provide sufficient factual or legal grounds to justify a recall.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 caused around a quarter of the 106 work-related deaths reported in Washington in 2021, according to the state Department of Labor & Industries.
In an effort to offer a COVID-19 vaccine for the youngest children, Moderna asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve low-dose shots for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. The company said two kid doses were about 40% to 50% effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms and presented their data to the agency.
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.
Report critical of ex-leader at veterans home torn by COVID
The leader of a veterans’ care center in Massachusetts where 76 veterans died after contracting the coronavirus in the spring of 2020 lacked both the leadership skills and the temperament to run such a facility when he was hired in 2016, according to a blistering state Inspector General’s report released Friday.
The 91-page report, which covers the period from May 2016 until February 2020 — just before the pandemic struck with full force — was also highly critical of the process that led to the hiring of Bennett Walsh as superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and of state oversight of the home.
The investigation that led to the report started in 2019 in response to pre-pandemic complaints about Walsh, who resigned in October 2020 as he faced criminal charges over his handling of one of the deadliest known COVID-19 outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the U.S. Those charges were dismissed last year.
“Superintendent Walsh did not have and did not develop the leadership capacity or temperament for the role of superintendent,” a summary of the report said. “He created an unprofessional and negative work environment, retaliated against employees he deemed disloyal, demonstrated a lack of engagement in the home’s operations and circumvented his chain of command.”
Masks back by popular demand on San Francisco BART trains
A mask mandate for commuter rail passengers is back by popular demand in the San Francisco Bay Area, the region that two years ago imposed the nation’s first coronavirus stay-at-home order and now is bucking the national trend away from required face coverings.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit system, known as BART, had decided last week to drop its rule in line with a federal court ruling but that decision prompted an outcry, spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Friday.
“We started to immediately hear from riders in phone calls, emails, tweets, that they felt unsafe on the train if there was not a mask mandate,” BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Friday.
BART’s board of directors decided in a meeting Thursday to temporarily restore the mask rule until at least July 18, the agency said in a statement. Children ages 2 and under as well as people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks are exempt from the mandate.
COVID deaths no longer overwhelmingly among unvaccinated as toll on elderly grows
Unvaccinated people accounted for the overwhelming majority of deaths in the United States throughout much of the coronavirus pandemic. But that has changed in recent months, according to a Washington Post analysis of state and federal data.
The pandemic’s toll is no longer falling almost exclusively on those who chose not to get shots, with vaccine protection waning over time and the elderly and immunocompromised — who are at greatest risk of succumbing to COVID-19, even if vaccinated — having a harder time dodging increasingly contagious strains.
The vaccinated made up 42% of fatalities in January and February during the highly contagious omicron variant’s surge, compared with 23% of the dead in September, the peak of the delta wave, according to nationwide data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed by The Post. The data is based on the date of infection and limited to a sampling of cases in which vaccination status was known.
FDA sets June meetings on COVID vaccines for youngest kids
The Food and Drug Administration on Friday set tentative dates in June to publicly review COVID-19 vaccines for the youngest American children, typically the final step before authorizing the shots.
The meeting announcement follows months of frustration from families impatient for a chance to vaccinate their little children, along with complaints from politicians bemoaning the slow pace of the process.
The FDA said it plans to convene its outside panel of vaccine experts on June 8, 21 and 22 to review applications from Moderna and Pfizer for child vaccines. The dates are not final and the FDA said it will provide additional details as each company completes their application.
Currently, only children ages 5 or older can be vaccinated in the U.S. with Pfizer’s vaccine, leaving 18 million younger tots unprotected.
On Thursday, Moderna submitted data to the FDA that it hopes will prove its two low-dose shots can protect children younger than 6. Moderna has filed FDA applications for older kids, but the FDA hasn’t ruled on them. It’s not clear if that data for older children will be considered at the June meetings.
Lagging behind national trend, Seattle workers not in hurry to return to the office
This spring many Seattle-area firms began reopening their offices and tempting workers back with promises of pizza, spontaneous workplace joviality and other all-but-forgotten pleasures of in-person employment.
To which many office workers appear to have said, “meh” — much to the dismay of those fretting over Seattle’s recovery.
Last week, offices in the Seattle metro area were only a third full — an improvement from early January, but far below what some U.S. metros are seeing, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks office occupancy.
Kastle, a Washington, D.C., office security firm, posts weekly occupancy rates for 10 U.S. metros using data from key card systems in thousands of commercial buildings.
Seattle isn’t on Kastle’s list, but company officials say San Francisco and San Jose, California, which Kastle tracks, and which have Seattle-like demographics, are good proxies for the Emerald City.
On that basis, Seattle’s office occupancy rate last week would have been around 33% — at the bottom of Kastle’s 10 metros list (which also includes Austin, Texas; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Los Angeles; New York; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C.).
Cheers! Munich to stage 1st Oktoberfest after 2-year hiatus
The annual Oktoberfest festival is on again for this fall, the city of Munich said Friday, following a two-year pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dieter Reiter, the mayor of the Bavarian capital, said the popular beer festival will be held without restrictions from Sept. 17 to Oct. 3 – Germany’s national day.
The Oktoberfest, first held in 1810 in honor of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese, has been canceled dozens of times during its more than 200-year history due to wars and pandemics.
The announcement was welcomed by the Bavarian hotel and restaurant association.
Political stakes high as Beijing responds to virus outbreak
Classes suspended. Buildings and communities sealed off. Mass testing of residents. A rush to stock up on food, just in case.
Beijing, China’s sprawling capital, is starting to resemble other Chinese cities grappling with the latest wave of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Authorities are moving quickly to try to prevent a massive COVID-19 outbreak that could trigger a citywide lockdown like the one that has paralyzed Shanghai for more than three weeks. The political stakes are high as the ruling Communist Party prepares for a major congress this fall at which President Xi Jinping is seeking a third five-year term to reassert his position as China’s unquestioned leader.
Xi and the party’s main policymaking body, the Politburo, reaffirmed their commitment to a “zero-COVID” policy on Friday, putting China at odds with much of the world. While many countries are dropping restrictions and trying to live with the virus, China is keeping its international borders largely shut and closing off entire cities to all but essential travel.
The Politburo acknowledged the economic cost of lockdowns, saying efforts must be made to “minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Trump officials muzzled CDC on church COVID guidance, emails show
Trump White House officials in May 2020 overrode public health advice urging churches to consider virtual religious services as the coronavirus spread, delivering a messaging change sought by the president’s supporters, according to emails from former top officials released by a House panel on Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent its planned public health guidance for religious communities to the White House on May 21, 2020, seeking approval to publish it. The agency had days earlier released reports saying that the virus had killed three and infected dozens at church events in Arkansas and infected 87% of attendees at a choir practice in Washington state, and health experts had warned that houses of worship had become hot spots for virus transmission.
But Trump officials wrote that they were frustrated by “problematic” advice the CDC had already posted, such as recommendations that houses of worship consider conducting virtual or drive-in religious services, according to emails released Friday by the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis.
“This removes all the tele-church suggestions, though personally I will say that if I was old and vulnerable (I do feel old and vulnerable), drive-through services would sound welcome,” May Davis Mailman, a White House lawyer, wrote to colleagues on May 21, attaching her own scrubbed version of the CDC’s guidance to her email.
The guidance subsequently published by CDC did not include any recommendations about offering virtual or drive-in options for religious services, clergy visits, youth group meetings and other traditionally in-person gatherings. Mailman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hottest U.S. COVID hot spot swells to 3 dozen counties
The orange spot first appeared on the national risk map in early April, marking three counties in central New York as having “high” community levels of the coronavirus, the only such cluster in the country.
By mid-April, the orange had spread to include 10 upstate counties, with a penumbra of yellow around them. Now it is up to more than three dozen orange counties, stretching across upstate New York and spilling into Pennsylvania and Vermont.
There are smatterings of orange and yellow counties elsewhere in the country now as well, but the hot spot that started in central New York is the biggest, darkest blotch on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mostly pristine national map.
Health experts say that people in the hot spot, which includes cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton, should be increasing their precautions. “These are areas where CDC recommends people should wear a mask in public indoor settings due to an increasing level of severe disease and the potential for significant health care strain,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, told reporters Tuesday.
But local officials have been reluctant to issue any orders along those lines.
“Mandates don’t work well, they create anxiety in the community, and they’re unenforceable,” said Ryan McMahon, the county executive of Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse. “What we have done is distribute tens of thousands of KN95 masks and COVID tests, and mail them to people’s homes.”
COVID still the leading cause of work-related deaths in WA
COVID-19 was responsible for around a quarter of the 106 work-related deaths reported in Washington in 2021, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries said this week.
The figure makes coronavirus the leading cause of work-related deaths in the state for the second year in a row. In 2021, 26 people died after contracting the coronavirus while in a workplace — an increase from 24 people in 2020.
While the number of coronavirus-related deaths increased, the number of total workplace deaths declined from 119 deaths in 2020.
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