Fewer than a dozen states have public health emergency declarations in place, despite a rise in cases of the highly transmissive omicron subvariant known as BA.5. As the pandemic ebbs and flows, and Americans become more and more used to life with COVID, legislators are doubting the impact of such declarations.
President Joe Biden’s doctor said over the weekend that the president likely contracted the omicron subvariant. Biden’s earlier symptoms, including a runny nose and a cough, were becoming “less troublesome” since he tested positive Thursday. His vital signs, according to the doctor’s report Saturday, “remain entirely normal.”
Another cultural event fell victim to the pandemic, as COVID infections among the cast and crew of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival gave organizers little choice but to cancel.
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.
CDC shuts down its COVID-19 program for cruise ships
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has officially ended its COVID-19 program for cruise ships.
The program was voluntary — though cruise lines couldn’t exactly decline to opt in. It had replaced the CDC’s previous Conditional Sailing Order back in February of this year.
Cruise lines operating in U.S. waters were compelled to strictly adhere to the COVID-19 program for cruise ships’ guidance in order to prove they were upholding best practices for the mitigation of the coronavirus aboard their vessels.
It laid out the acceptable guidelines for passenger vaccination requirements, testing protocols and masking rules, as well as onboard isolation protocols and the parameters for onboard medical facilities.
North Korea pushes traditional medicine to fight COVID-19
As a medical student in North Korea, Lee Gwang-jin said he treated his fevers and other minor ailments with traditional herbal medicine. But bad illness could mean trouble because hospitals in his rural hometown lacked the ambulances, beds, even the electricity at times needed to treat critical or emergency patients.
So Lee was skeptical when he heard recent North Korean state media reports that claimed such so-called Koryo traditional medicine is playing a key role in the nation’s fight against COVID-19, which has killed millions around the world.
“North Korea is using Koryo medicine a lot (for COVID-19) … but it’s not a sure remedy,” said Lee, who studied Koryo medicine before he fled North Korea in 2018 for a new life in South Korea. “Someone who is destined to survive will survive (with such medicine), but North Korea can’t help others who are dying.”
Like many other parts of life in North Korea, the medicine that the state says is curing its sick people is being used as a political symbol. That, experts say, will eventually allow the country to say its leaders have beaten the outbreak, where other nations have repeatedly failed, by providing homegrown remedies, independent of outside help.
Murkowski says she has tested positive for COVID-19
Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Monday that she recently tested positive for COVID-19.
She made the announcement on the social media.
In the brief statement, the Republican said she recently tested positive after experiencing flu-like symptoms. The statement did not specify the timing of the test. Her campaign posted photos of events that Murkowski participated in Friday and Saturday in Fairbanks.
“I will be following guidance and advice from doctors and will be quarantining at home in Alaska while continuing my work remotely,” Murkowski’s statement said.
White House plans COVID-19 vaccine summit as Biden recovers
As President Joe Biden continues to recover from his coronavirus infection, the White House plans to hold a summit on Tuesday to discuss developing a new generation of vaccines that could more effectively guard against contagious variants.
The summit, which involves top administration officials, scientists and pharmaceutical executives, comes as the country faces a surge of infections from BA.5, a variant that’s an offshoot of the omicron strain.
Although the current generation of vaccines, plus antiviral drugs, have helped prevent hospitalizations and deaths, there are hopes that new versions could provide more durable protection against disruptive infections.
Biden was likely infected by the BA.5 variant, and he tested positive on Thursday. A new note from his doctor, released on Monday, said his symptoms have “almost completely resolved.”
The pandemic isn’t over, but most states say it’s no longer a health emergency
When all 50 states, the District of Columbia and United States territories declared public health emergencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, those declarations allowed state officials to lift limits on hospital capacity, expand access to telehealth services and even allow highway weight limits to be exceeded, in case the National Guard needed to quickly move in.
By Monday, fewer than a dozen states will have emergency declarations in place, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. States have let the declarations expire even though the omicron subvariant known as BA.5, perhaps the most transmissible coronavirus subvariant yet, is pushing up positive tests, hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions across the country.
The wider latitude conferred by a state’s public health emergency — such as making it easier for out-of-state medical providers to help with in-person and telehealth care and for retired health care workers to return to work — was critical to states’ responses to earlier waves of coronavirus cases.
But as Americans adjust to living with the virus, the country’s governors have increasingly had to justify the extension of such declarations to legislators who consider them an unnecessary use of executive power.
Meet the COVID super-dodgers
Joe and Susannah Altman are serious poker players. Sometimes, when they play in tournaments, they’ll place what’s called a “Last Longer” bet with friends who see which of them can outlast the others. The pandemic kept the Altmans, both 58, away from the in-person tables for over a year — Susannah has lupus, and at the time, they were caring for a friend with cancer — but they came out of lockdown a little over a year ago, after getting vaccinated, and since then have had some close calls. The Las Vegas couple dined with friends who subsequently tested positive. Joe spent a day with their 25-year-old son, only to have that son be diagnosed with COVID 48 hours later. Just last month, Susannah went to lunch with four friends, two of whom tested positive days later.
“Joe and I feel like we’re still in the Last Longer with COVID,” Susannah said in a recent phone interview.
There are no winners in a pandemic. That said, if you’ve made it to the summer of 2022 without yet testing positive for the coronavirus, you might feel entitled to some bragging rights. Who’s still in the game at this point? Not Anthony Fauci. Not President Joe Biden, Denzel Washington, Camila Cabello or Lionel Messi. Not your friend who’s even more cautious than you but who finally caught it last week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that nearly 60% of Americans had contracted the virus at some point — and that was as of the end of February, before the extremely contagious BA. 4 and BA. 5 variants became rampant.
You might suspect that you are special — immunologically superior, a super-dodger. You also might have come up with some bizarre theories about why you’ve lasted longer.
Sen. Manchin isolating after positive COVID test
Sen. Joe Manchin has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms, the West Virginia lawmaker tweeted Monday. The 74-year-old Democrat said he’s fully vaccinated and boosted.
With 82-year-old Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also missing votes recently after two hip surgeries, Manchin’s illness underscores the fragility of Democrats’ control of the Senate. Members of the House of Representatives are able to vote remotely by proxy, but members of the Senate are not.
The party hopes to push several legislative priorities through the 50-50 chamber this campaign season, including votes it hopes to hold next week on a top-tier measure curbing pharmaceutical prices and extending federal subsidies for health insurance.
But with a summer recess scheduled to begin soon and the weeks until November’s elections dwindling, any Democratic absences due to new cases of COVID-19 or other reasons would complicate those plans.
Judge tosses Arizona suit over limits on virus relief funds
PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has dismissed Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s demands that the state stop sending millions in federal COVID-19 relief money to schools that don’t have mask requirements or that close due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The state filed the lawsuit earlier this year after the U.S. Treasury Department demanded that Ducey either restructure the $163 million program to eliminate restrictions it says undermine public health recommendations or face a repayment demand.
Some schools hit hard by virus make few changes for new year
As a new school year approaches, COVID-19 infections are again on the rise, fueled by highly transmissible variants, filling families with dread. They fear the return of a pandemic scourge: outbreaks that sideline large numbers of teachers, close school buildings and force students back into remote learning.
Some school systems around the country have moved to bolster staffing to minimize disruptions, but many are hoping for the best without doing much else differently compared with last year.
Even some of the districts that had the most disruptions to in-person schooling amid the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant point to few specific changes in their prevention efforts.
Among them is Baltimore County schools, where the number of days that individual schools in the district couldn’t offer in-person learning added together totaled 159 in January, according to data from the private research firm Burbio, which tracks over 5,000 school districts nationwide. District officials said they did not see a need to change protocols.
Boost now or wait? The dilemma of how to ride out COVID’s next wave
Gwyneth Paige didn’t want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 at first. With her health issues — hypertension, fibromyalgia, asthma — she wanted to see how other people fared after the shots. Then her mother got colon cancer.
“At that point, I didn’t care if the vaccine killed me,” she said. “To be with my mother throughout her journey, I had to have the vaccination.”
Paige, who is 56 and lives in Detroit, has received three doses. That leaves her one booster short of federal health recommendations.
Like Paige, who said she doesn’t currently plan to get another booster, some Americans seem comfortable with the protection of three shots. But others may wonder what to do: Boost again now with one of the original vaccines, or wait months for promised new formulations tailored to the latest, highly contagious omicron subvariants, BA. 4 and BA. 5?
The rapidly mutating virus has created a conundrum for the public and a communications challenge for health officials.
About 70% of Americans age 50 and older who got a first booster shot — and nearly as many of those 65 and older — haven’t received their second COVID booster dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency currently recommends two booster shots after a primary vaccine series for adults 50 and older and for younger people with compromised immune systems.
Omicron shattered what we know about COVID reinfections. Here’s who may be vulnerable
Initially, enduring COVID had one redeeming quality: It gave you some short-term immunity from getting infected again.
But the new omicron subvariants are shattering that trend, and BA. 5 has caused more people to catch COVID for the second or third time than previous strains.
BA. 5 is known for having a structure that is maximized to evade immunity and for transmitting from person-to-person more easily than other subvariants in the omicron family.
Emerging research shows the percentage of reinfections is rising. New strains are sweeping through the country one after the other.
Shishi Luo, associate director of bioinformatics and infectious disease at Helix, said her data shows on average, people who are getting reinfected now were last infected about nine months ago.