Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, April 5, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Over 59 million people enrolled in Medicare will be able to receive up to eight monthly at-home tests from their local drugstore at no cost.
Meanwhile, Senate leaders agreed on a $10 billion COVID-19 response package after dropping funds that would’ve been used to assist other countries in their response to the global pandemic.
Closer to home, the Washington State Department of Corrections said the majority of active COVID-19 cases reported out of state prisons came from the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center north of the Tri-Cities.
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.
Britain’s health service expands its list of COVID symptoms
Britain’s health service has expanded its list of possible symptoms of coronavirus infection, after the omicron subvariant known as BA.2 propelled new case reports upward again in much of Europe.
The updated symptom list, which now includes feelings of tiredness or exhaustion as well as nausea, brings the National Health Service’s description of the disease largely in line with those of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.
Early in the pandemic, some public health experts criticized the British health authorities for what they said was an overly narrow symptom list. Initially, it included just two — fever and a new, continuous cough — with loss of taste and smell added later.
The emergence of the omicron variant has driven renewed public interest in the symptoms of COVID-19, and whether they differ from those of previous virus variants like delta.
CDC lowers travel warnings for Canada, two dozen other destinations
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is no longer warning Americans to avoid travel to Canada because of the coronavirus.
In an update to its travel health notices Monday, the public health agency said the level of covid-19 in the country is “high” rather than “very high” and that Americans should be up to date on their coronavirus vaccinations before visiting. That places Canada at a Level 3 on a warning system that goes from 1 to 4; it had been at Level 4 since Jan. 10.
Last Friday, Canada dropped its coronavirus testing requirement for fully vaccinated visitors. According to tracking data compiled by The Washington Post, 83 percent of the country’s population has completed a full vaccination series.
Other popular tourist destinations that the CDC lowered from Level 4 to Level 3 risks Monday include Antigua, Argentina, Belize, St. Lucia and Panama.
Lawyer for NYC fired after grilling mayor over kid mask rule
A lawyer for New York City was fired after she crashed a news conference Monday to confront Mayor Eric Adams about the city’s mask mandate for children aged 2 to 4.
Daniela Jampel, who had worked for the city law department since 2016, was fired later on Monday, a department spokesperson said.
Jampel was fired after she attended a City Hall press conference and demanded that Adams “unmask our toddlers.” The law department spokesperson said she had misrepresented herself as a journalist at the press conference.
On Friday Jampel posted and then deleted a tweet that said that as an attorney for the city she had “represented cops who lie in court, teachers who molest children, prison guards who beat inmates.” The tweet continued, “It is a job I have done proudly. Until tonight. Fighting to keep masks on toddlers is shameful. I am ashamed of my office.”
Small businesses in need of a loan find banks are stingy
Small businesses still have the pandemic and now high inflation to grapple with — and they’re finding it’s tough to get a loan to help with the daily grind.
A recently released survey from the Federal Reserve shows how the pandemic has altered the financial landscape for small business. About 85% experienced financial difficulties in 2021, up nearly 20 percentage points from 2019. Back then, more than half of owners who sought a loan were looking to expand; last year, the majority of applicants needed funds just to cover every day operating expenses.
Meanwhile, inflation is the highest in decades, with raw materials and finished goods soaring in price and workers demanding higher wages. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates in response, which means the cost of borrowing money is going up.
Even in normal times, it can be tough for small businesses to get loans from traditional banks because they lack the assets and credit histories of bigger companies. During the pandemic, banks have been stingier, outside of COVID-related programs. Two years in, loan applicants are more likely to get turned down or to receive less money than they asked for compared to before COVID-19.
White House to extend student loan pause through August
The Biden administration plans to freeze federal student loan payments through Aug. 31, extending a moratorium that has allowed millions of Americans to postpone payments during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an administration official familiar with the White House’s decision-making.
Student loan payments were scheduled to resume May 1 after being halted since early in the pandemic. But following calls from Democrats in Congress, the White House plans to give borrowers additional time to prepare for payments.
The action applies to more than 43 million Americans who owe a combined $1.6 trillion in student debt held by the federal government, according to the latest data from the Education Department. That includes more than 7 million borrowers who have defaulted on student loans, meaning they are at least 270 days late on payments.
Borrowers will not be asked to make payments until after Aug. 31, and interest rates are expected to remain at 0% during that period.
U.S. airfares are up 40% from January, and more increases are expected
U.S. domestic airfares have risen by 40% since January, according to analysts.
Round-trip domestic flights are now averaging $330, as compared with $235 at the beginning of 2022, said analysts at travel comparison company Hopper.
That’s also an increase of 7% over 2019’s pre-pandemic pricing, making these the highest prices the company has seen since it started collecting this data. International fares are on par with 2019’s prices at an average of $810 round trip, but up by 25% from the $650 average seen at the start of the year.
The March 2022 edition of Hopper’s Consumer Airfare Index examined current airfare, airfare forecasts, the impact of jet fuel costs, top destinations for this summer and more.
Hopper said it expects round trip domestic airfare prices to remain at around $320-$330 until the end of April, but it predicts prices increase 10% to $360 by the end of May and remain that way through June.
The company is forecasting that international fares with continue to match 2019 prices through May, but increase by about 15% from present prices and exceed 2019 prices by about 5% in June, bringing the average cost of a round trip ticket to $940.
Portland extends housing emergency for three more years
The City Council in Portland, Oregon, has voted unanimously to extend the citywide housing state of emergency for three more years.
The declaration extended Wednesday gives the city flexibility when it comes to zoning. Portland’s zoning code does not allow mass shelters on industrial property, but with the extension the city says it can bypass those zoning laws to build shelters.
The decision comes as the city tries to figure out a more permanent solution to its housing crisis.
Portland’s housing and homeless crisis has been exacerbated during the pandemic. During the area’s 2019 point-in-time count — a yearly census of sorts — an estimated 4,015 people were experiencing homelessness, with half of them “unsheltered” or sleeping outside. Advocates say the numbers have likely significantly increased.
Is it possible to overdo it with COVID-19 vaccine boosters? What is and isn’t known
First, it was one or two COVID-19 vaccine shots. Then it was get a booster shot after eight months, until they changed it to six, then five months. Now, federal health authorities have approved yet another shot four months from your last one if you’re at least 50 or in poor health.
But is it possible to overdo it on COVID-19 vaccine boosters? Could it end up like the overuse of antibiotics that medical experts now warn is breeding superbugs resistant to them?
There’s no evidence of that yet, most experts say. But the boosting-too-much questions are fueling a growing debate among scientists as an expert panel meets April 6 to advise the Food and Drug Administration on vaccine booster doses and updates tailored to emerging variants.
Early this year, the European Medicines Agency’s Head of Vaccines Strategy, Marco Cavaleri, raised the concern that excess boosting could weaken rather than strengthen our immunity.
CDC, under fire for COVID response, plans to revamp itself
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky announced plans Monday to revamp the agency that has come under blistering criticism for its performance leading the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying, “it is time to step back and strategically position CDC to support the future of public health.”
In an agencywide email sent shortly after 1 p.m., after the leadership team was briefed, Walensky said she has hired a senior federal health official outside of the Atlanta-based agency to conduct a one-month review to “kick off an evaluation of CDC’s structure, systems, and processes.”
Since the pandemic began more than two years ago, the once-storied agency has been under fire for its pandemic response, from initial delays developing a coronavirus test, to the severe eligibility limits to get the test, to missteps often attributed to Trump administration meddling. But even under the Biden administration, the agency’s guidance on masking, isolation and quarantine, and booster doses has been repeatedly faulted for being confusing. A consistent criticism has been the agency’s failure to be agile, especially with analysis and release of real-time data.
COVID outbreak ‘extremely grim’ as Shanghai extends lockdown
The COVID-19 outbreak in China’s largest metropolis of Shanghai remains “extremely grim” amid an ongoing lockdown confining around 26 million people to their homes, a city official said Tuesday.
Director of Shanghai’s working group on epidemic control, Gu Honghui, was quoted by state media as saying that the outbreak in the city was “still running at a high level.”
“The situation is extremely grim,” Gu said.
China has sent more than 10,000 health workers from around the country to aid the city, including 2,000 from the military, and is mass testing residents, some of whom have been locked down for weeks.