Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, March 23, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

The Health Resources and Services Administration stopped taking insurance claims for COVID-19 tests and treatments for people without health insurance on Tuesday. The announcement comes as urgent funding for COVID-19 resources remains stuck in Congress due to political divide.

Meanwhile, a recent surge in COVID-19 deaths in South Korea has strained crematories and funeral homes leaving families struggling with funeral arrangements.

In Washington state, omicron’s BA.2 subvariant has steadily spread — now accounting for 25% of cases sequenced at UW Medicine’s virology lab.

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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U.S. Capitol reopening for limited public tours after 2 years

The U.S. Capitol will reopen to the public on Monday for guided tours for limited groups of people who have registered in advance, congressional officials said, two years after the coronavirus pandemic prompted the cessation of such visits.

Officials said that the resumption would occur in phases, beginning on Monday for school groups and other groups of up to 15 people who would be led by lawmakers or their aides. Congressional offices would each be limited to leading one tour weekly.

The move, announced Wednesday, marked Congress’ latest relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions as Washington, D.C., and the world struggle to return to normalcy as the omicron variant wave wanes in the U.S. Mask requirements inside the Capitol were relaxed weeks ago in a gradual easing that has been colored by politics, with Republicans pushing for more aggressive easing of restrictions than Democrats.

A health screening form for all visitors was being “recommended,” according to the statement by House Sergeant at Arms William J. Walker and Brian P. Monahan, the Capitol’s attending physician.

Read the full story here.

—Alan Fram, The Associated Press
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Home values soared during the pandemic, except for these Black families

What is a community worth? The answer, all too often, depends on race.

Kym and Steve Taylor own a six-bedroom home set on four acres in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, one of the wealthiest majority-Black counties in the nation. Their nearly 10,000-square-foot house boasts nine bathrooms. A wine cellar. A custom-designed floating spiral staircase. A dream home they’d purchased for $1.45 million in 2015.

So the couple were shocked when their home appraised for $1.15 million in 2021 at the height of the real estate market — half a million less than what they were expecting and $300,000 less than what they had paid six years earlier.

The Taylors, owners of a home health care agency, had been counting on using the equity in their home as collateral to buy another company. But the lower appraisal meant they had to tap into a separate line of credit to complete the deal, eroding emergency funds set aside to expand their business.

Read the full story here.

—Tracy Jan, The Washington Post

Pandemic relief money spent on hotel, ballpark, ski slopes

Thanks to a sudden $140 million cash infusion, officials in Broward County, Florida, recently broke ground on a high-end hotel that will have views of the Atlantic Ocean and an 11,000-square-foot spa.

In New York, Dutchess County pledged $12 million for renovations of a minor league baseball stadium to meet requirements the New York Yankees set for their farm teams.

And in Massachusetts, lawmakers delivered $5 million to pay off debts of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston, a nonprofit established to honor the late senator that has struggled financially.

The three distinctly different outlays have one thing in common: Each is among the scores of projects that state and local governments across the United States are funding with federal coronavirus relief money despite having little to do with combating the pandemic, a review by The Associated Press has found.

Read the full story here.

— Brian Slodysko, The Associated Press

For immunocompromised people in WA, return to ‘normal’ threatens mental and physical health

Maia Williams spends much of her day combing through medical records of the dead. 

As a government death investigator, her files offer the broad strokes of lives cut short by COVID-19. When the coughing — or other symptoms — began. Which predisposing conditions the person was diagnosed with. If and when they were hospitalized. Which treatment, if any, they received. 

“That can be very sad, for obvious reasons,” said Williams, 35, who lives in White Center. 

But then she’ll come across a case of someone with an immune deficiency. 

Someone like her. 

Read the full story here.

—Hannah Furfaro
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Play ball: NYC to let unvaccinated athletes play home games

New York City’s mayor will announce Thursday that he’s exempting athletes and performers from the city’s vaccine mandate for private workers, a move that will allow Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play home games and unvaccinated baseball players to take the field when their season begins.

Mayor Eric Adams will make the announcement Thursday morning and it will be effective immediately, according to a person familiar with the upcoming announcement who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The city’s sweeping vaccine mandate for workers will still apply to people with other types of jobs, including government employees.

Adams had said he felt the vaccine rule was unfair when it came to athletes and performers because a loophole in the measure, imposed under his predecessor, allowed visiting players and performers who don’t work in New York to still play or perform even if they are unvaccinated.

Read the full story here.

— Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 860 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 1,096 on Tuesday. It also reported 37 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,448,779 cases and 12,392 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.

In addition, 58,993 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 74 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 371,624 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,639 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,175,487 doses and 67.3% 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 4,623 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

With cases rising, UK marks 2 years since 1st virus lockdown

Britain paused Wednesday to remember the thousands of lives lost to the coronavirus in the two years since Prime Minister Boris Johnson plunged the country into its first lockdown with the command: “You must stay at home.”

The strict lockdown imposed on March 23, 2020 shut offices, schools, restaurants, shops and playgrounds, and people who did not work in essential jobs only were allowed outside for exercise and limited tasks. The stringent measures lasted for about three months, and on-off restrictions continued until early this year.

With civic freedoms restored but new confirmed cases rising once again, Wednesday was designated a day of reflection on a pandemic that has claimed almost 164,000 lives in the U.K., the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe after Russia.

Britain also had one of the developed world’s deepest economic downturns as the pandemic closed down swaths of the economy.

Read the full story here.

—Jill Lawless, The Associated Press
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College bribery scandal trial delayed after judge gets COVID

The trial of a former water polo coach at the University of Southern California, has been postponed after the presiding judge contracted the coronavirus, a court official confirmed Wednesday.

Judge Indira Talwani received a positive COVID-19 test, prompting the suspension of the case against Jovan Vavic in Boston federal court until Monday, court spokesperson Carolyn Meckbach said.

No other COVID-19 cases have been identified, she added. The trial opened earlier this month and is expected to last about four weeks.

Prosecutors say Vavic accepted more than $200,000 in bribes to fake athletic credentials and designate college applicants as water polo recruits so they could gain admission into the elite Los Angeles school.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

What to know about COVID vaccines for little kids

COVID-19 vaccinations for the youngest children just might be a step closer.

Moderna intends to seek U.S. authorization for kid-sized shots, releasing early study results Wednesday that suggest the two small doses work in tots younger than 6. Within weeks, competitor Pfizer hopes to learn if three of its even lower-dose shots do, too.

While COVID-19 generally isn’t as dangerous in youngsters as adults, some do become severely ill or even die. About 400 children younger than 5 have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic’s start, according to the CDC. The omicron variant hit children especially hard, with those under 5 hospitalized at higher rates than at the peak of the previous delta surge, the CDC found.

Read the story here.

—Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press

As airplane mask rules change around the world, here’s what travelers should know

Air travel has been one of the last holdouts for strict pandemic mask requirements. In the United States, for example, the mask mandate — which was recently extended to April 18, when it comes up for review again — is still enforced. Over the past year, 922 of those who didn’t wear masks received fines from the Transportation Security Administration, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

But there are hints that the tide may be turning: Within the past few weeks, Danish airports and London’s Heathrow Airport have lifted their mask requirements, as have several major British airlines.

Some airline employees in England rejoiced at their reclaimed freedom from enforcing mask rules at 30,000 feet. “First flight done without a mask and it was an absolute dream,” a woman, who identified herself as a flight attendant from Yorkshire, England, on her social media accounts, recently wrote on Twitter, alongside a photo of her fully visible smile.

Read the story here.

—Heather Murphy, The New York Times
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Moderna says its low-dose COVID shots work for kids under 6

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine works in babies, toddlers and preschoolers, the company announced Wednesday — and if regulators agree it could mean a chance to finally start vaccinating the littlest kids by summer.

Moderna said in the coming weeks it would ask regulators in the U.S. and Europe to authorize two small-dose shots for youngsters under 6. The company also is seeking to have larger doses cleared for older children and teens in the U.S.

Early results from the study found that tots developed high levels of virus-fighting antibodies from shots containing a quarter of the dose given to adults — although just like with all ages, the vaccine was less effective against the super-contagious omicron mutant.

“The vaccine provides the same level of protection against COVID in young kids as it does in adults. We think that’s good news,” Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, told The Associated Press.

Read the story here.

—Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press

Seattle’s tech sector powered through pandemic, but city’s advantage is at risk

As we take tentative steps out of the worst of the pandemic, some evidence is emerging about how the tech economy has fared since early 2020.

Spoiler alert: Seattle did well, but it’s when counting the metropolitan area, not merely the city that led the region’s tech boom in the 2010s.

From 2015 to 2019, Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue turned in the second-highest share of growth in tech jobs among metro areas, much of that powered by Seattle’s rise to become one of America’s “superstar cities.” Eight of these metros accounted for half of the nation’s tech job creation then.

Now, a new report from the Brookings Institution drills down into the pandemic’s effects on these advanced industry sectors and whether the rise of remote work also shifted work to the so-called left-behind metros.

The Seattle area was insulated with Microsoft and the rise of Amazon, with 50,000 well-paid jobs in South Lake Union and downtown, it became home to two of the five Big Tech giants.

But the big post-pandemic question is whether the city can continue its prosperity despite rising crime, the aftermath of civil unrest in 2020, a largely shuttered downtown, and hostility from a majority of the City Council.

Muro, a Brookings senior fellow and Seattle native, told me, “Remote and hybrid work may make it a bit easier for Seattle to power through, but ultimately the health of the region — anchored by its downtown vibrancy and diversity — is essential to maintaining momentum. If not this year, or next year, chaos and divides and dystopia likely will eventually harm the tech juggernaut.”

In other words, advantage Bellevue and the Eastside.

Read the story here.

—Jon Talton

Alcohol-related deaths spiked during the pandemic, a study shows

Almost 1 million people in the United States have died of COVID-19 in the past two years, but the full impact of the pandemic’s collateral damage is still being tallied. Now a new study reports that the number of Americans who died of alcohol-related causes increased precipitously during the first year of the pandemic, as routines were disrupted, support networks frayed and treatment was delayed.

The startling report comes amid a growing realization that COVID-19’s toll extends beyond the number of lives claimed directly by the disease to the excess deaths caused by illnesses left untreated and a surge in drug overdoses, as well as to social costs such as educational setbacks and the loss of parents and caregivers.

Numerous reports have suggested that Americans drank more to cope with the stress of the pandemic. Binge drinking increased, as did emergency room visits for alcohol withdrawal. But the new report found that the number of alcohol-related deaths, including from liver disease and accidents, soared, rising to 99,017 in 2020 from 78,927 in 2019 — an increase of 25% in the number of deaths in one year.

That compares with an average annual increase of 3.6% in alcohol-related deaths between 1999 and 2019. Deaths started inching up in recent years, but increased only 5% between 2018 and 2019.

More on th

Read the story here.

—Roni Caryn Rabin, The New York Times
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WHO: COVID-19 cases rise for 2nd straight week, deaths fall

The number of new coronavirus cases globally increased by 7% in the last week, driven by rising infections in the Western Pacific, even as reported deaths from COVID-19 fell, the World Health Organization said.

There were more than 12 million new weekly cases and just under 33,000 deaths, a 23% decline in mortality, according to the U.N. health agency’s report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday.

Confirmed cases of the virus had been falling steadily worldwide since January but rose again last week, due to the more infectious omicron variant and the suspension of COVID-19 protocols in numerous countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

Health officials have said repeatedly that omicron causes milder disease than previous versions of the coronavirus and that vaccination, including a booster, appears highly protective.

The Western Pacific remained the only region in the world where coronavirus cases are rising, reporting a 21% jump last week, continuing weeks of increase. According to figures from last week, the number of new infections in Europe remained stable and fell everywhere else.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

As airplane mask rules change around the world, here’s what travelers should know

Air travel has been one of the last holdouts for strict pandemic mask requirements. In the United States, for example, the mask mandate — which was recently extended to April 18, when it comes up for review again — is still enforced. Over the past year, 922 of those who didn’t wear masks received fines from the Transportation Security Administration, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

But there are hints that the tide may be turning: Within the past few weeks, Danish airports and London’s Heathrow Airport have lifted their mask requirements, as have several major British airlines.

Some airline employees in England rejoiced at their reclaimed freedom from enforcing mask rules at 30,000 feet. “First flight done without a mask and it was an absolute dream,” a woman, who identified herself as a flight attendant from Yorkshire, England, on her social media accounts, recently wrote on Twitter, alongside a photo of her fully visible smile.

In the United States, the International Air Transport Association, which represents nearly 300 airlines, and the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group, have been lobbying the White House not to extend the mandate further, saying it’s difficult to rationalize mask rules in the sky, given that authorities have already lifted them in other indoor locations. Republican lawmakers, who recently sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to end the mask mandate for air travel, call the rule “arbitrary.” But some travel health experts and passengers say airplane cabins and airports should take a more careful approach.

Read the full story here.

—Heather Murphy, The New York Times

New data shows remote work surges, transit use collapses among workers in downtown Seattle

In 2019, before the COVID pandemic, nearly half of downtown commuters took transit to work, bucking the trend in other cities of declining ridership on public transportation.

But by the end of 2021, that figure was just 18%, a decline that followed an enormous shift to remote work. The recently released data, part of the nonprofit Commute Seattle’s annual survey of downtown businesses, quantifies a reality that is unlikely to come as a surprise two years after the beginning of the public health emergency.

The Downtown Seattle Association estimates there were 321,000 jobs downtown in 2021. Once upon a time, just 6% of all employees from downtown businesses worked remotely. That number jumped to 46% over the course of the pandemic, according to the survey of 4,371 employees. In addition to transit, those biking, walking or carpooling to work fell as well, although not as steeply.

Meanwhile, the share of workers driving alone to work remained roughly the same, at a quarter of all employees. That number represents a flattening after years of declines beginning in 2010.

The fact of remote work is known to all by this point. But Commute Seattle’s data shows just how stark that shift was. It’s especially pronounced among the region’s largest employers that have more than 100 workers who begin their days between 6 and 9 a.m., Monday through Friday. From those companies, 58% of workers switched to telework.

Read the full story here.

—David Kroman
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

Maia Williams, who investigates COVID-19 deaths in her work, says she’s struggling with despair because it feels like Washington's decisions to ease COVID rules "throw folks who are high-risk under the bus so everyone else can go back to normal." She and other immunocompromised people are talking about how this phase is different for them as they learn to cope.

Omicron's BA. 2 subvariant is "creeping up" in Washington and now accounts for about 25% of cases sequenced at UW's virology lab. This has researchers urging residents to pay attention to local COVID-19 trends. Nationwide, experts are split over how concerned to be about BA.2. Here's what is known about it.

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine works in babies, toddlers and preschoolers, the company announced today. If regulators agree, it could mean shots for the littlest kids by summer. Catch up on where things stand on Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for children of all ages.

Woodland Park Zoo animals are finally getting their COVID shots — and they've been trained to make it easy on themselves. Watch how this works for Godek the orangutan and a fuzzy arctic fox.

Mask rules on airplanes are getting more confusing as some countries drop mandates and others keep them. With the U.S. heading toward decision time next month, here's what domestic and international travelers need to know, including guidance from travel medicine experts.

—Kris Higginson