Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, April 6, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

President Joe Biden has tasked the Department of Health and Human Services and several other federal agencies with undertaking research efforts into long COVID.

Biden also directed agencies to support doctors and patients dealing with long COVID by providing guidelines on science-based treatments and ensuring people have reliable access to health insurance.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its travel health notices to place Canada travel warnings at a Level 3, no longer warning Americans against traveling there due to a “high risk” of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

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.

Garland, Raimondo test positive for COVID-19

Attorney General Merrick Garland has tested positive for COVID-19 and will quarantine at home for five days, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Garland is the second Cabinet official to announce a positive test result on Wednesday. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also tested positive for the virus using an at-home antigen test.

The announcement from the Justice Department comes hours after Garland held a news conference in Washington, standing side-by-side with the deputy attorney general, FBI director and other Justice Department officials.

The Justice Department says Garland asked to be tested “after learning that he may have been exposed to the virus.” Officials say he is not experiencing symptoms, is fully vaccinated and has received a booster.

Read the full story here.

—Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press

U.S. colleges that once championed surveillance virus testing are backing away

Colleges and universities across the United States have relaxed campus requirements for coronavirus testing of vaccinated people in recent weeks, chipping away at some of the last widespread surveillance testing programs and dismaying public health experts, who say that robust sources of transmission data will be lost.

Cornell University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California and Duke University are among the major institutions that have already dropped regular testing requirements for fully vaccinated and boosted community members, or that plan to do so in the next few weeks.

Institutions like those provided a “rich environment” to understand transmission in shared living areas, said Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist and adjunct professor at University of Arizona’s College of Public Health.

Most universities making the change will continue to require that unvaccinated students and staff members be tested regularly, though that is a relatively small population on campuses with vaccine mandates. Limiting surveillance testing to that group could make it harder to track the spread of the virus and the highly contagious omicron subvariant BA.2, experts said.

Read the story here.

—Anushka Patil, The New York Times

Bothell banned cars from Main Street in response to COVID. They may never return

Nearly two years ago, Bothell banned vehicles from a downtown street to promote outdoor dining and strolling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, it looks like the cars may never return.

The rapidly growing Seattle suburb will keep the street vehicle-free for at least two more years while studying whether to make the change permanent, based on a split vote by Bothell’s City Council last month.

In one sense, it’s a relatively modest step toward prioritizing pedestrians and nonmotorized activities. The zone on Main Street stretches only one block. But local activists who pushed for the change say the decision to keep it intact, despite some business and traffic concerns, demonstrates how new ideas are taking hold in Bothell. Experts say communities across the region should be paying attention, and the mayor is comparing the space to a European central square.

Read the story here.

—Daniel Beekman

EU officials say it’s too early to consider 4th COVID dose

European health officials say it’s too early to consider giving a fourth dose of messenger RNA coronavirus vaccines to most people, but say an extra booster can be administered to those over age 80.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said they had reviewed data for a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc. They included real-world data from Israel, where research has shown that a second booster provides only marginally higher protection.

“There is currently no clear evidence in the EU that vaccine protection against severe disease is waning substantially in adults with normal immune systems aged 60 to 79 years,” the agencies said. But the organizations acknowledged that if the pandemic situation changes, it might be necessary to consider a second booster dose in that age group.

For adults younger than 60 with no underlying health issues, “there is currently no conclusive evidence that vaccine protection against severe disease is waning or that there is an added value of a fourth dose,” the EMA and ECDC said.

The advice stands in contrast to guidance issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which decided last week that Americans 50 and older can get a second COVID-19 booster if it’s been at least four months since their last vaccination.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 717 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 5,219 on Tuesday. It also reported 29 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,464,398 cases and 12,544 deaths, meaning that 0.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The increased number of cases on Tuesday reflects a data cleanup effort and ranges from January 2021 to January 2022, according to DOH.

In addition, 59,420 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 87 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 378,733 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,685 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,290,147 doses and 67.6% 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 4,878 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.

—Amanda Zhou

US experts discuss COVID boosters for the fall and beyond

While many Americans are trying to move on with their lives after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. health officials are debating the best way to use vaccines to stay ahead of the coronavirus.

A panel of U.S. vaccine experts was meeting Wednesday to discuss key questions for future COVID-19 booster campaigns. The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisers won’t make any binding decisions, but they could help shape the government’s approach for years to come.

FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks told reporters last week that it wouldn’t be surprising if the agency authorized another booster dose in the fall to protect most Americans against the latest coronavirus mutations. He opened Wednesday’s meeting by cautioning that waning vaccine protection, new variants and colder weather later this year could raise the risk of more surges.

“All that taken together makes us conclude that a general discussion of booster vaccination against COVID-19 is warranted at this time so that we can potentially intervene,” Marks said.

Read the story here.

—Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press

States weigh shielding doctors’ COVID misinformation, unproven remedies

The controversy began in September, more than a year into the pandemic, when the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners issued a warning to doctors in the state: Spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines could land them in big trouble with the board, including the possible revocation of their medical licenses.

Board members acted after hearing that some doctors were relaying fantastical, unsupported claims about the vaccines, including that they magnetize the body, cause infertility and inject microchips under the skin so the government can track patients’ movements.

But the powerful chair of the Tennessee House Government Operations Committee, Republican state Rep. John Ragan, said the board had overstepped its bounds. In a series of letters in the fall, Ragan ordered the board to remove the warning from its website and threatened to terminate the board.

Lawmakers in other states also have tried to protect doctors, nurses and pharmacists who departed from mainstream medical findings about COVID-19 treatment.

Legislators in half the states have introduced bills that would prevent regulatory bodies from punishing medical providers who promote COVID-19 misinformation or unproven treatments, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Read the story here.

—Michael Ollove, Stateline.org

Mickey Mouse can start hugging again at Disney parks

Mickey Mouse will soon be able to hug again.

For nearly two years, costumed characters at U.S. Disney parks have kept their distance from visitors because of the pandemic. They haven’t been able to give hugs, sign autographs or interact up close with fans.

That is about to change in a few weeks when the parks reintroduce traditional character greetings. As soon as mid-April, personal interaction between visitors and costumed characters will be allowed again at Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World in Florida and on Disney cruises, the company said late last week in a blog post.

The parks closed temporarily because of the coronavirus in spring 2020. After the parks reopened that summer, costumed characters could only be seen waving from a distance in the parks or in parades. Last fall, the parks allowed the costumed characters to return to locations around the parks for individualized meet-ups with visitors, but they were only allowed to greet visitors and have their photos taken from a distance.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Shanghai to allow parents to stay with COVID-infected kids

Following a public uproar, Shanghai is allowing at least some parents to stay with children infected with COVID-19, making an exception to a policy of isolating anyone who tests positive.

The announcement came as China’s largest city remained in lockdown and conducted more mass testing Wednesday following another jump in new cases.

A top city health official said at a news conference that parents can apply to stay with children with “special needs” and accompany them if they fully comprehend the health risks and sign an agreement.

The parents must wear masks, dine at a different time than their children, avoid sharing items with them and strictly follow all regulations, said Wu Qianyu of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission. She did not define what qualifies as “special needs.”

Read the story here.

—Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press

Biden orders push on long COVID, pandemic’s shadowy mystery

Confronting the pandemic’s lasting shadow, President Joe Biden on Tuesday is ordering a new national research push on long COVID, while also directing federal agencies to support patients dealing with the mysterious and debilitating condition.

The White House said Biden is assigning the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate an urgent new initiative across federal agencies, building on research already under way at the National Institutes of Health.

Biden also directed federal agencies to support patients and doctors by providing science-based best practices for treating long COVID, maintaining access to insurance coverage, and protecting the rights of workers as they try to return to jobs while coping with the uncertainties of the malaise.

Long COVID is the catch-all term for a hydra-headed condition whose symptoms can include brain fog, recurring shortness of breath, pain and fatigue. It is roughly estimated to affect as many as 1 in 3 people who recover from COVID-19, although the severity and duration of symptoms vary. Despite intense investigation, the causes of long COVID are not yet well understood and treatment largely focuses on helping patients cope with their symptoms as they try to rebalance daily routines.

Read the story here.

—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

WHO: COVID cases and deaths continue to fall globally

The number of coronavirus cases reported globally has dropped for a second consecutive week and confirmed COVID-19 deaths also fell last week, according to a World Health Organization report issued Wednesday.

In its latest pandemic report, WHO said 9 million cases were reported, a 16% weekly decline, and more than 26,000 new deaths from COVID-19. The U.N. health agency said confirmed coronavirus infections were down in all regions of the world.

However, it warned that the reported numbers carry considerable uncertainty because many countries have stopped widespread testing for the coronavirus, meaning that many cases are likely going undetected.

WHO said it was also tracking an omicron variant that is a recombination of two versions: BA.1 and BA.2, which was first detected in Britain in January. WHO said early estimates suggest the recombined omicron could be about 10% more transmissible than previous mutations, but further evidence is needed.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Congressman Adam Schiff tests positive for COVID-19

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, announced Tuesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I’m feeling fine, and grateful to be vaccinated and boosted,” the 61-year-old Schiff tweeted. “In the coming days, I will quarantine and follow CDC guidelines. And remember, please get vaccinated!”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Check the risk at your destination as CDC removes travel warnings

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.

Check the CDC’s risk level for your destination

Read the story here.

—Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post

A new glimpse into WA’s earliest COVID deaths — and why we may never have a complete record

On the Saturday afternoon of Feb. 29, 2020, reporters joined local and state health officials, packing into a room for a news conference in downtown Seattle. Details were shared about what appeared to be the first COVID-19 death in the nation just the day before.

It was a man in his 50s and a patient at EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland. He had underlying health conditions — and no recent travel history.

But we now know the King County man wasn’t the first in Washington — or in the nation — to die of COVID after all.

In a recent review of the state’s earliest COVID deaths, the state Department of Health has confirmed at least four other Washingtonians died from COVID complications before or on Feb. 28, 2020. Three were from long-term care facility Life Care Center of Kirkland, the site of the first known coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., while DOH now believes the first person to die in the state was actually a Snohomish County woman in her 30s.

And the first recorded death in the country has since been attributed to Lovell “Cookie” Brown, a 78-year-old Kansas woman who died on Jan. 9, 2020, according to The Mercury News.

Read the story here.

—Elise Takahama

WHO: COVID cases and deaths continue to fall globally

The number of coronavirus cases reported globally has dropped for a second consecutive week and confirmed COVID-19 deaths also fell last week, according to a World Health Organization report issued Wednesday.

In its latest pandemic report, WHO said 9 million cases were reported, a 16% weekly decline, and more than 26,000 new deaths from COVID-19. The U.N. health agency said confirmed coronavirus infections were down in all regions of the world.

However, it warned that the reported numbers carry considerable uncertainty because many countries have stopped widespread testing for the coronavirus, meaning that many cases are likely going undetected.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press