Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, April 3, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
COVID-19 is spreading more quickly than people can be vaccinated, and cases and hospitalizations are climbing throughout King County, creating concerns over the pace of reopening. If cases continue to climb over the next week or two, the county may return to the more-limited Phase 2 of the reopening plan, Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said Friday. Less than two weeks ago, on March 22, Washington state entered Phase 3, which allows for up to 10 people from different households to gather indoors, and outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people. A recent increase in hospitalizations over the past few weeks is attributed in part to coronavirus variants. More than 600 cases of variants have been detected in King County, and the number continues to grow.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on Friday to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward, the Associated Press reported. Still, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky urged caution and said she would “advocate against general travel overall” given the rising number of infections. According to the CDC, more than 100 million people in the U.S. — or about 30% of the population — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose.
Gov. Inslee announced this week that all people 16 years and older will become eligible for vaccination on April 15. That means more than 6 million more people will be eligible. Public health experts urge patience as it could take weeks to get an appointment.
Vaccine passports are latest flash point in COVID politics
Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices.
They currently exist in only one state — a limited government partnership in New York with a private company — but that hasn’t stopped GOP lawmakers in a handful of states from rushing out legislative proposals to ban their use.
The argument over whether passports are a sensible response to the pandemic or governmental overreach echoes the bitter disputes over the past year about masks, shutdown orders and even the vaccines themselves.
Vaccine passports are typically an app with a code that verifies whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19. They are in use in Israel and under development in parts of Europe, seen as a way to safely help rebuild the pandemic- devastated travel industry.
They are intended to allow businesses to more safely open up as the vaccine drive gains momentum, and they mirror measures already in place for schools and overseas travel that require proof of immunization against various diseases.
But lawmakers around the country are already taking a stand against the idea. GOP senators in Pennsylvania are drawing up legislation that would prohibit vaccine passports, also known as health certificates or travel passes, from being used to bar people from routine activities.
The final insult: Some dying of COVID while awaiting vaccine
After months of hoping to receive a COVID-19 immunization and then weeks of fighting the illness after one never came, Air Force veteran Diane Drewes was down to her last few breaths at a hospice center in Ohio when the phone rang. It was a health care worker, calling to schedule her first appointment for a coronavirus shot.
Drewes’ daughter Laura Brown was stunned by the timing of the call in January but didn’t lash out over the phone or even explain that her 75-year-old mom was at the point of death. There just wasn’t any point, she said.
“But me and my sister were upset that it came too late,” Brown said. “It seemed like the final insult.”
More than 247,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. since vaccines first became available mid-December. Officials had warned that dispensing enough vaccines to reach herd immunity would take months. And with the initial vaccine supply extremely limited and the virus running rampant across the nation over the winter, it was a sad reality that some would contract COVID-19 and die before they could be inoculated.
With surveys showing a large percentage of the U.S. population leery of vaccines, it’s impossible to say exactly how many of the dead would have even wanted an immunization. But Brown said her mother wanted one — desperately. Other families have similar, wrenching stories of loved ones being infected after months of staying safe and then dying before they could get a dose.
Charlotte Crawford, who has spent 40 years working in the microbiology laboratory at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, was fully immunized in January after receiving two doses of the Moderna vaccine because of her work. Yet she then endured the agony of watching her husband and two adult children contract COVID-19 and die before they could get shots.
Your COVID-19 pandemic baby coming-out party
No one in Deena Al Mahbuba’s family has met her daughter, Aara. She was born at the end of 2019, extremely premature. By the time Aara left the hospital for her home outside Boston in mid-June, the world was already months into COVID-19 lockdowns. Mahbuba’s close relatives, along with her husband’s, all live in Bangladesh. The couple moved from there in 2013.
Family members have done their best to stay connected, but Mahbuba, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wishes that her relatives were nearby. Her older siblings have kids of their own and could help her soothe Aara when she’s sleepless.
Or they could show her how they introduced foods to their own babies; Aara, now 15 months old, struggles with new foods after having been tube-fed in her early life. Mahbuba also hopes Aara will learn to speak Bengali, but worries she needs exposure to the language from people besides her parents.
“Sometimes I feel really sad,” Mahbuba said. “I feel like there is a gap happening, and sometimes I worry this gap is going to be stretched out day by day.”
Even grandparents, aunts and uncles in the same country as babies born during COVID have been kept away by travel restrictions and other precautions. Darby Saxbe, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, said her lab last spring started following 760 expectant parents to study their mental health, social connection and other factors. In open-ended survey responses, many participants reported they hadn’t been able to see extended family.
Broadway Reopened. For 36 Minutes. It’s a Start.
Three hundred and eighty-seven days after Broadway went dark, a faint light started to glimmer Saturday.
There were just two performers — one at a time — on a bare Broadway stage. But together they conjured up decades of theater lore, invoking the songs and shows and stars that once filled the grand houses in and around Times Square.
The 36-minute event, before a masked audience of 150 scattered across an auditorium with 1,700 seats, was the first such experiment since the coronavirus pandemic caused all 41 Broadway houses to close March 12, 2020, and industry leaders are hoping it will be a promising step on what is sure to be a slow and bumpy road to eventual reopening.
Dancer Savion Glover and actor Nathan Lane, both of them Tony Award winners, stood in for a universe of unemployed artists and show-starved fans as they performed a pair of pieces created for the occasion.
Glover, a renowned tap dancer, performed an improvisational song-and-dance number in which he seemed to summon specters of productions past. He walked onstage, removed the ghost light that by tradition is left on to keep spirits away from an unoccupied theater, and began to sing lyric samples, accompanied only by the sound of his bright white tap shoes. “God, I hope I get it,” he began, citing the yearning theme of “A Chorus Line.”
And from there, he was off, quoting from “The Tap Dance Kid,” “Dreamgirls,” “42nd Street” and other shows that he said have influenced him, often celebrating the urge to dance, while also acknowledging the challenges of the entertainment industry. (“There’s no business like show business,” he sang, before adding, “Everything about it is eh.”) He also made a pointed reference to Black life in the U.S., interpolating the phrase “knee-on-your-neck America” into a song from “West Side Story.”“I was a little nervous, but I was elated and happy, and there was nostalgia, and I was sentimental; it was everything,” he said in an interview afterward.
WSU praises tighter COVID restrictions enacted by Whitman County health officials
Whitman County Public Health on Friday issued an emergency order restricting certain gatherings in response to a recent rise in COVID-19 infections in Pullman, an increase tied to college-age residents.
According to the order, outdoor social gatherings within Pullman that are not associated with weddings, funerals or religious services shall be limited to no more than 10 people.
Masks are required to be worn unless the person is physically unable or younger than 2 years old. People must maintain 6-foot social distancing.
All other requirements in Phase 3 of Washington’s recovery plan will remain unchanged. Phase 3 restricts indoor social gatherings to 10 people from outside one’s household.
According to the county, there have been 140 COVID-19 cases since March 26.
The 34 new cases reported Friday brought Whitman County’s total cases to 3,919. Deaths and hospitalizations because of the virus remained unchanged at 46 and 96, respectively.
State health officials confirm 1,260 new coronavirus cases in Washington
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,260 new coronavirus cases. (The state does not report new deaths on weekends.)
The update brings the state's totals to 368,403 cases and 5,278 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Friday.
In addition, 20,688 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 47 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 91,855 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,470 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 3,471,343 doses and 17.85% 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 57,321 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.
Workers line up for COVID vaccines at fruit packing houses in the Yakima Valley
Irvin Escobar, a 26-year-old employee at Hansen Fruit, has avoided coronavirus infection so far.
He credits a mix of safety practices — washing hands, wearing masks — and pure faith.
“The main thing was trusting in God,” he said.
Escobar now had another means of protection from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus: A Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot, which he received during a Friday clinic at Hansen Fruit.
He admits that he likely wouldn’t have sought out a shot on his own, but the on-site clinic made getting it an easy decision.
“I’m excited to get it and continue with life,” he said.
Escobar was one of nearly 250 workers who received vaccine doses at the mass vaccine clinic at Hansen Fruit. Such clinics are one tool the local agriculture industry has been using to ensure that as many workers as possible are vaccinated.
Employees of Allan Bros. in Naches, Yakima County, also received vaccinations.
“It’s about doing our part for our community and trying to get beyond this,” said Eric Hansen, owner at Hansen Fruit.
Hansen said he hoped to vaccinate most, if not all, of the workers in the company’s packing operation Friday and hope to hold additional clinics or other efforts to vaccinate workers at its orchards throughout Central Washington.
Agricultural workers are part of Phase 1B, Tier 2 under the state’s vaccine priority plan. Those workers, along with many others in the same category, became eligible on March 17.
Kenya stops the private importation of COVID-19 vaccines
Kenya has ordered an immediate suspension to the private importation of coronavirus vaccines, citing fears that otherwise counterfeit inoculations may get into the East African country.
“To ensure the transparency and accountability in the vaccination process, and to protect the integrity of the country, the government is effective today closing the window of private sector importation, distribution and administration of vaccines, until such a time there is greater transparency and accountability in the entire process,” Kenya’s National Emergency Response Committee on coronavirus said in a statement Friday evening.
Private health facilities have been charging about $80 apiece for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, while Kenyan institutions are giving out free AstraZeneca vaccines the government received from the global COVAX initiative.
In recent weeks, government has been working to improve the reluctant uptake by frontline workers of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. So far around 160,000 people have been vaccinated in more than a month.
After announcing new restrictions on movement due to a surge of coronavirus infections and deaths, President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 26 led his cabinet in getting vaccinated publicly.
Kenya’s government says the country’s positivity rate jumped from 2.6% at the end of January to 19.1% on April 2.
Oklahoma town eases pandemic, one restaurant meal at a time
NEW YORK (AP) — In Miami, Oklahoma, restaurants and their customers are doing their part to ease pandemic heartache, one meal at a time.
Cafes in and around the close-knit town in the state’s northeastern corner have put up “receipt walls,” allowing diners to pre-pay for meals and the needy to grab what they like, have a seat and refuel — judgment-free, no questions asked.
The idea of providing free, pre-paid meals spread from restaurant to restaurant a few months ago. Many recipients are homeless or have otherwise hit hard times since the pandemic rolled into Miami (pronounced my-AM-uh), population about 13,000. Two February blizzards brought even more trouble.
Jennifer White, a Miami native who owns the gourmet hot dog spot The Dawg House, transitioned from food truck to brick and mortar last September, a bold move in the middle of a pandemic. She was the first to put up a giving wall. Within eight hours, she had a wall full of meal receipts.
So far, customers at The Dawg House have provided more than 600 meals.
“And we have only eight tables in our restaurant, so that says a lot about how amazing our community is,” White said.
Read the rest of the story here.
Easter services at St. James Cathedral take on new meaning after a year spent in lockdown
Holy Week seems to have special meaning. Like Jesus, people have suffered, and are rising out of something.
And they want to do it in church.
Before the pandemic, Holy Week services drew 6,500 worshippers to St. James: A thousand for Holy Thursday, when parishioners celebrated the actions and words of The Last Supper; 1,500 for Good Friday, when Catholics commemorate Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and death; and up to 1,800 at each of two Easter Sunday services, to celebrate his resurrection from the dead.
This year, and in keeping with Gov. Inslee’s restrictions on large gatherings, the church only allowed 200 people to attend services — a number that is 10% of the Cathedral’s total capacity of 2,000 people, according to Maria Laughlin, the assistant to the Rev. Michael Ryan, the longtime pastor of the cathedral.
People had to register online for seats at each Mass. The spaces for Easter Sunday went “in minutes,” Laughlin said.
Is church more important now, after a year of a pandemic that tested people in so many ways?
Ryan, a man who loves words, didn’t have any for a moment.
“Yes, some really missed it,” he said. “and being able to be back, they see the importance in a new way, and they articulate that. They tell me that being in church seems more important, or ‘I understand now, I won’t take it for granted anymore.’”
Read the rest of the story here.
Young professionals cut ahead of older Italians for vaccine
Octogenarians in Tuscany watched in disbelief and indignation as lawyers, magistrates, professors and other younger professionals got vaccinated against COVID-19 before them, despite government pledges of prioritizing Italy’s oldest citizens. Even some of their adult children jumped ahead of them.
By one estimate, the failure to give shots to the over-80s and those in fragile health has cost thousands of lives in a country with Europe’s oldest population and its second-highest loss of life in the pandemic.
A dozen prominent senior citizens in Tuscany published a letter calling out the authorities, including the region’s governor, for what they said was a violation of their health care rights enshrined in the Italian Constitution.
Read the rest of the story here.
A COVID-19 vaccine against a worrisome variant is being tested in Seattle
An early-stage trial of a vaccine tailored for B.1.351, a variant that was detected in South Africa late last year and is now spreading around the globe, kicked off this week. At least 17 cases of the variant have been detected in Washington since January, according to the state health department.
Of all the variants that have emerged over the past several months, none is causing as much anxiety as B.1.351. Not only does it appear to be about 50% more infectious than the original strain, but it is also the most adept at evading both natural and vaccine-induced immunity.
Existing vaccines still appear to provide “an adequate level of protection” against all circulating variants, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in a statement announcing the trial, which NIAID is funding.
The trial will evaluate vaccine safety and immune responses in more than 200 volunteers. That will include about 50 people in Seattle who are already vaccinated against the original version of the virus. A total of about 150 people who have not yet been vaccinated will be enrolled in Seattle and at the three other sites.
Volunteers can register for the trial at: https://corona.kpwashingtonresearch.org/.
Read the rest of the story here.
Tents in Seattle increased by more than 50% after COVID pandemic began, survey says
Seattle has seen a precipitous increase in tents in its urban core from Ballard downtown to North Beacon Hill, preliminary numbers from a new study show.
The survey, completed by researchers and students from Seattle Pacific University and University of Washington, found more than 800 tents in Seattle in spring and summer 2019, before the pandemic. The research team later resampled the highest-populated areas in winter 2019 and then summer 2020, and found the number of tents in those areas had ballooned by more than 50%.
With shelters shrunk due to fears of coronavirus spread, and with limited space in hotels for people living outside, there are few places for them to go. Some worry the number of people living in tents will increase when the state’s eviction moratorium is set to expire this summer and the city will likely begin ticketing and towing RVs that people are living in. Those two things, advocates warn, as well as warm weather, could push more people to live in tents in Seattle.
Read the rest of the story here.
Public health experts urge patience when COVID vaccine appointments open to all 16 and older
When Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week the state would open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for everyone age 16 and older on April 15, more than 6 million Washingtonians became eligible earlier than expected.
Public health experts say the change to an open-for-all system is good news, but caution that, at least immediately following what’s been coined “Vax Day,” patience and persistence will be required as appointments are quickly swept up.
The state Department of Health recommends using its vaccine locator site, vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, which instructs the user to put in a ZIP code and brings up clinics within 50 miles that offer appointments. The user then must go to the chosen clinic’s website.
In one day this week, 163,000 people used the locator site, and 70% of those users went on to make an appointment, according to interim Assistant Health Secretary Michele Roberts.
Read the rest of the story here.
Surge in COVID cases could lead to reopening rollback
Although nearly 700,000 people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, COVID-19 is spreading more quickly than people can be vaccinated, and cases and hospitalizations are climbing throughout King County, a public health official said Friday, creating concerns over the pace of reopening. Additionally, more than 600 cases of variants have been detected in King County, and the number continues to grow.
Washington state entered Phase 3 on March 22, which allows for up to 10 people from different households to gather indoors, and outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people. If cases continues to climb over the next week or two, the county may return to the more-limited Phase 2 of the reopening plan, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Read the whole story here.
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