The COVID-19 funding impasse could hamper the Biden administration’s Test to Treat plan that would allow people to go to their local drugstore and obtain a free COVID-19 test or antiviral medication if they tested positive, U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra warned.

Aside from funding, concerns are growing over people losing their health insurance if their eligibility for Medicaid lapses once the government ends the official COVID-19 public health emergency.

Meanwhile, the Pacific island nation of Samoa will go into lockdown after officials detected its first case of community-transmitted COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

A woman tested positive for COVID-19 as she was about to leave the country and a leaked government report indicates she had visited several public spaces since she first began feeling ill.

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.

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After stumbles, Biden’s health secretary seeks a reboot

Xavier Becerra, the health and human services secretary, walked into a Boys & Girls Club in Manchester earlier this month without a mask, one of his first public appearances with his face uncovered. He felt “a little bit of anxiety” about it, he confessed, even though coronavirus caseloads had plummeted.

“We can’t let things slip,” Becerra said, noting the potential for new variants and the many Americans still at risk for severe COVID-19. Referring to himself, he added: “You’re the captain of the ship; you’re the last one off. So are we there? No, not everyone’s off the ship.”

At the moment, he faces a big problem: His department is out of money to pay for tests, therapies and vaccines, even as many public health experts anticipate a resurgence of COVID in the fall if not sooner.

Read the story here.

—Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times
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What New York got right and wrong about the pandemic

New York City had become the global epicenter of the pandemic. Scenes from overwhelmed hospitals in Brooklyn and Queens replaced earlier ones from Wuhan, China, and northern Italy. Until the virus struck, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, had offered optimistic pronouncements of how New York would fare.

That first wave infected nearly one-quarter of the city and killed more than 22,000 residents, according to city data. Over the next two years, New York City would face three more waves, killing 16,000 others and infecting several million more.

The pandemic is not yet over. A subvariant of omicron, BA.2, now makes up a growing proportion of cases in the New York region, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, New York’s experience of the past two years will be studied for decades to come.

Here are a few of the lessons.

Read the story here.

—Sharon Otterman and Joseph Goldstein, The New York Times

The vulnerable lack access to COVID treatments. Will it get worse?

There have never been more COVID-19 treatments available than right now. The U.S. government is distributing more than 1 million courses of monoclonal antibody and antiviral therapies to the states and federal agencies this month alone.

But experts say those treatments have largely failed to reach the most vulnerable populations, including people of color, those with low incomes and the immunocompromised. In an analysis published in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that patients of color were less likely to receive monoclonal antibody treatment than white patients.

Those disparities could become even more stark as the federal government runs out of money to buy treatments and to cover testing, vaccination and treatment for all Americans.

Read the story here.

—Jack Evans, Tampa Bay Times

Millions still haven’t gotten COVID shots. What does that mean for the future of the vaccination effort?

It’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday in Chester, Pennsylvania, and nurses Susan Pollock and Carol Von Colln are inside a Delaware County vaccine clinic doing what they spend a lot of time doing these days: waiting.

Last spring, Americans were in a frenzied rush to get the COVID-19 vaccine; this spring, business has slowed to a crawl. Now, whenever someone walks in, “we’re ready to throw a party,” Von Colln said.

That day, they vaccinated eight people in six hours.

It’s a scene playing out across the region and the United States as the number of shots being given each day is at an all-time low — even though a third of Americans are still unvaccinated.

Read the story here.

—Erin McCarthy and Justine McDaniel, The Philadelphia Inquirer
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A tiny Irish pub delivered to your doorstep: How one place celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the COVID era

Two years into the pandemic, the virus is in retreat (or maybe not). The White House is reopening for public tours. Masks are coming off in schools. Boston is again holding a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Meanwhile, the Wee Irish Pub, measuring eight feet by 17 feet, has not stopped moving since word of its existence began to spread early this year. There is something about it that people find irresistible: the intimacy, the simulation of public space, the sense of being transported.

“I don’t know how to say this,” said Craig Taylor, a marketing consultant who built the miniature pub on wheels with his younger brother Matt. Some of his customers have beautiful homes in which they could easily host a party, yet they love the idea of sitting in a little trailer. Craig thinks he knows why. “It’s something different,” he said. “It feels like you could be a million miles away.”

Read the story here.

—Joanna Slater, The Washington Post

CWU mask mandate to end in April

Central Washington University in Ellensburg will end its mask mandate for most indoor spaces effective April 8, 2022, according to a university press release.

The university’s spring quarter begins March 29. Ending the mask mandate in April will allow university leadership time to monitor transmission rates post-spring break and set up three days of testing clinics, the release said.

Read the story here.

—Vanessa Ontiveros, Yakima Herald-Republic

Los Angeles schools announce end of classroom mask mandate

The nation’s second-largest school district said it will drop the requirement by next Wednesday after reaching an agreement with the teachers union, although other virus safety measures such as weekly testing will remain in place through the school year.

However, the county is still recommending that masks be worn at schools.

The move comes as California emerges from a deadly winter COVID-19 surge fueled by the omicron variant. Public health officials say widespread vaccinations have helped drive down caseloads and hospitalizations. The state on Friday reported that that daily average of new cases over seven days was 6.5 per 100,000 people. That compares with a case rate of 72.4 cases per 100,000 in December.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Oregon OSHA will stop enforcing some COVID workplace requirements, repeal ‘permanent’ rules

Oregon’s workplace safety agency said this week it is relaxing standards for COVID-19 safety precautions, adjusting rules to conform with new state health guidance. That means the end to formal mask requirements and other precautions.

The state Occupational Safety and Health Division, known as Oregon OSHA, established emergency safety rules in 2020, early in the pandemic. Six months later, in April 2021, the agency moved to extend those protections.

Because Oregon law allows emergency rules to remain in place for just 180 days, though, OSHA said it needed to make those rules nominally “permanent” to keep them in place.

Read the story here.

—Mike Rogoway, oregonlive.com

China’s low elderly vaccination rate shows key vulnerability

Only half of Chinese people aged 80 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, highlighting a key vulnerability as the country grapples with its worst outbreak since Wuhan and the prospect of reopening to the world.

It’s the first time China has fully broken down its elderly vaccination numbers, and they’re concerning. They show the country is at risk of a situation like Hong Kong’s, where an even larger proportion of elderly people is unvaccinated — some 63% of those over 80.

The data comes as President Xi Jinping pledges to adjust China’s COVID-fighting approach so that it’s less disruptive to the economy. 

Read the story here.

—Bloomberg

China reports first COVID-19 deaths in more than a year

China’s health authorities reported two COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, the first since January 2021, as the country battles its worst outbreak in two years driven by a surge in the highly transmissible omicron variant.

The deaths, both in northeastern Jilin province, bring the country’s coronavirus death toll to 4,638.

Nationwide, China has reported more than 29,000 confirmed cases since the beginning of March.

It has pressed on with its tried-and-true policy of lockdowns and mass testing of millions of people as part of a successful, if burdensome, “zero-COVID” strategy since the initial outbreak in Wuhan in 2019.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Understaffing leaves after-school programs with unmet demand

The return to classrooms for the nation’s schoolchildren has not meant a return to work for many of their parents who, with workdays that outlast school days, are finding crucial after-school programs in short supply.

School-based providers list difficulties hiring and retaining staff as the biggest reasons they have not fully rebounded from pandemic shutdowns and they say they are as frustrated as the parents they are turning away.

“We’re in a constant state of flux. We’ll hire one staffer and another will resign,” said Ester Buendia, assistant director for after-school programs at Northside Independent School District in Texas. “We’ve just not been able to catch up this year.”

Read the story here.

—Carolyn Thompson, The Associated Press