Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, March 24, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Coronavirus cases reported globally increased by 7% in the last week, driven in large part by surges in the Western Pacific, while the rate of COVID-19 deaths fell by about 23%, according to the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, Moderna announced its COVID-19 vaccine works for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. U.S. health regulators have yet to approve the vaccine for these groups of children, but Moderna is set to seek approval from U.S. and European officials in the coming weeks.

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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Small lab that got $187M for COVID testing put patients in ‘jeopardy’

The drive-through coronavirus testing site, a metal shipping container in the parking lot of an Indianapolis shopping mall, gave Bridgette Alexander pause.

The man administering tests at the site, run by a company called O’Hare Clinical Lab Services, was wearing jeans and a leather jacket, not medical scrubs or a gown. He moved among the cars without changing gloves, she said. He asked for her driver’s license but not her insurance card.

But Alexander was feeling ill and desperate to make sure she didn’t pass COVID-19 to her husband, a kidney transplant recipient. The rapid test came back negative that day, Dec. 23, providing temporary relief, she said.

Five days later, still sick, she went to a hospital. The test there came back positive. Her husband soon fell ill, too. He was hospitalized with COVID-19 in mid-January and has remained on a ventilator since then, Alexander said.

Read the full story here.

—Shawn Boburg and Kim Bellware, The Washington Post
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Coronavirus rules are swiftly falling away in Asia, with a big caveat

In the Philippines, tens of thousands of people are crowding into political rallies in Manila, and the zoo there is packed. In India, millions fanned out last weekend to celebrate a Hindu festival. And in South Korea, 15,000 fans descended on a stadium in Seoul for three nights to see K-pop band BTS perform for the first time since October 2019.

Many Asian-Pacific countries are dismantling thickets of COVID-19 rules at bewildering speeds, even though the omicron variant of the coronavirus is still raging in parts of the region. The moves are driven by a mix of medical advice, economic pressures and the sentiment of a pandemic-weary public that enough is enough.

“God knows we need this break,” said Shelly Bacallia, 29, who took her son to the Manila Zoo over the weekend, a reward of sorts for surviving a series of punishing COVID-19 lockdowns. “We’ve been cooped up for the past two years.”

There is at least one major caveat to the trend: Mainland China, which has generally adhered to its “zero COVID” approach, sticking with the snap lockdowns and strict border controls it has employed since early 2020. The state-controlled media emphasizes that the country of 1.4 billion people has by far the best record of controlling the virus. It plays up the pandemic death and illness toll of other countries while pointing to China’s low numbers as a sign of the superiority of the country’s system.

Read the full story.

—Victoria Kim , Mike Ives and Jason Gutierrez, The New York Times

How to avoid crowds on your spring break or summer vacation

Here come the crowds! You knew it would happen sooner or later: Everyone will try to go on vacation this spring and summer, if the predictions are accurate. At the same time.

Can you stay away from the mass of humanity that’s on the move? 

“Avoiding the crowds might feel impossible,” says Henley Vazquez, co-founder of Fora, a travel agency. “But even in the most popular areas, there are ways to be close to everything without being in the middle of the crowds.”

One of her favorite tips is narrowly avoiding a popular destination during peak travel times. “For example, if you’re heading to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, try Praiano instead of Positano,” she says. They’re just a 15-minute drive apart. Praiano is quiet and charming, like Positano would be if it were not overrun by Americans.

So what else do the pros say? If you make small changes to when and where you go, you can avoid a crush of camera-toting tourists.

Travel outside the season if you can, avoid crowded accommodations and get off the beach, are three top tips from experts.

Read the story here.

—Christopher Elliott, Special to The Seattle Times

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.

Their experience is common. Homes in Black neighborhoods are valued at 23% less, on average, than those in comparable white neighborhoods — despite having similar neighborhood and property characteristics and amenities, according to a Brookings Institution report.

The devaluation of Black communities adds up to about $156 billion in lost equity — money that could have been invested in education and entrepreneurship, said Andre Perry, a senior fellow at Brookings and author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.”

Read the story here.

—Tracy Jan, The Washington Post
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EU regulator advises AstraZeneca’s COVID drug be cleared

The European Union’s drug regulator said Thursday it was recommending that an antibody medication developed by AstraZeneca be authorized to help some vulnerable people avoid getting sick with the coronavirus.

The European Medicines Agency said in a statement that it was advising the use of the new drug, sold as Evusheld, in people age 12 and over before they were exposed to COVID-19, to prevent future infections.

It is now up to the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, to officially authorize the drug.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the medication in December for people with serious health problems or allergies who can’t get adequate protection from vaccination. Britain authorized the use of Evusheld last week.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Italian lawmakers probe Russian pandemic mission’s motives

An Italian Parliament committee that deals with intelligence matters summoned former Premier Giuseppe Conte on Thursday over growing concerns that a Russian military and medical team sent to help Italy early in the COVID-19 pandemic was really on a spying mission.

Conte was serving as Italy’s populist leader when the pandemic began in 2020 and overwhelmed the country’s health system, which was then desperate for masks, respirators and sanitizing material.

Proceedings of the Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic are usually closed-door since they involve national security.

It wasn’t immediately known if Conte or lawmakers on the committee would brief journalists on the contents of the hearing, which was scheduled to start Thursday evening.

Read the story here.

—Frances D'Emilio, The Associated Press

NYC lifts vaccine rule that blocked athletes from home games

New York City’s mayor exempted athletes and performers — including Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving — from the city’s vaccine mandate Thursday, while keeping in place the rule for countless other workers who faced losing their jobs for refusing to get vaccinated.

The city’s sweeping vaccine mandate still applies to many, including private workers and government employees. Critics of Mayor Eric Adams’ decision, including several public employee unions whose members were fired for not getting vaccinated, blasted the mayor for seeming to lift the rule only for wealthy and famous athletes.

The city’s largest police union, which has sued the city over the mandate, said its officers “don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens.”

“We have been suing the city for months over its arbitrary and capricious vaccine mandate — this is exactly what we are talking about. If the mandate isn’t necessary for famous people, then it’s not necessary for the cops who are protecting our city in the middle of a crime crisis,” said said its president, Pat Lynch.

Adams officially announced the change for athletes and performers Thursday at Citi Field, where the Mets play. The exemption was effective immediately.

The Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group of unions that together represent about 350,000 city workers, said the city should offer a way for fired workers to get their jobs back.

Read the story here.

—Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press
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Federal judge sides with 12 disabled kids seeking masks in schools

A federal judge has ruled that an executive order and new Virginia law allowing parents to opt their children out of classroom COVID-19 mask mandates cannot prevent 12 vulnerable students from seeking a “reasonable modification” that could include a requirement that their classmates wear masks.

These students’ health conditions, which include cancer, cystic fibrosis, asthma, Down syndrome, lung conditions and weakened immune systems, make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, their parents say. They sued Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and other state officials in February, arguing that the mask-optional policy effectively excludes some disabled children from public schools, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon granted in part an injunction sought by the parents. But he emphasized that the executive order and state law remain in effect, and said families of any other vulnerable children will have to make their own cases.

“This is not a class action, and the twelve plaintiffs in this case have no legal right to ask the Court to deviate from that state law in any schools in Virginia (much less school districts) their children do not attend, or indeed even those areas of their schools in which Plaintiffs’ children do not frequent,” he wrote.

Youngkin campaigned against mask and vaccine mandates, and one of his first acts after being sworn in as governor in January was signing an executive order that sought to make masks optional in schools.

Read the story here.

—Sara Rankin, The Associated Press

Countries brace for hit to tourism from Russia-Ukraine war

After losing two years to the COVID-19 pandemic, shopkeepers in the heart of the Turkish Riviera had hoped for a strong tourism season this year to help keep their businesses afloat. But Russia’s war in Ukraine is fast dampening their spirits.

“We’re trying to earn our bread through tourism, but it looks like the war has finished off this (tourism) season, too,” Devrim Akcay said outside his clothing shop in the resort town of Belek, along the Mediterranean coast’s Antalya province.

Nowhere is the threat of just one ripple effect of the war — lost tourism — felt more strongly than in Antalya, a region dotted with shimmering beaches and archeological sites where visitors from Russia and Ukraine, along with Germany, make up the top contributors to tourism revenue.

Countries from Turkey to Thailand, Egypt and Cuba are bracing for the loss of Russian and Ukrainian visitors just as their travel sectors were looking to rebound from the pandemic. With many tourist-dependent economies also struggling with surging inflation and other woes, hotel workers, guides and others who serve visitors from the two warring nations expect more pain.

The turquoise waters and white sand beaches of the Cuban resort of Varadero, which until recently received a significant number of tourists — mainly Russians — are now almost empty.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

In 1st full year of pandemic, biggest metros lost residents

After returning to metro San Francisco following a college football career, Anthony Giusti felt like his hometown was passing him by. The high cost of living, driven by a constantly transforming tech industry, ensured that even with two jobs he would never save enough money to buy a house.

So he started looking elsewhere, settling on Houston just last year.

“In Houston, I can be a blue-collar entrepreneur. With the Houston housing market, it made sense to come here,” said Giusti, who started a house-painting business.

Giusti was one of tens of thousands of residents who vacated some of the nation’s biggest, most densely-populated and costly metropolitan areas in favor of Sunbelt destinations during the first full year of the pandemic, from mid-2020 to mid-2021, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The pandemic intensified population trends of migration to the South and West, as well as a slowdown in growth in the biggest cities in the U.S.

The exodus from the biggest U.S. metropolitan areas was led by New York, which lost almost 328,000 residents. It was driven by people leaving for elsewhere, even though the metro area gained new residents from abroad and births outpaced deaths.

Read the story here.

—Mike Schneider, The Associated Press
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Zimbabwe renews COVID vaccination drive, targets schoolkids

Zimbabwe has launched a new COVID-19 vaccination campaign that includes jabbing children aged 12 and above to rescue a drive faltering due to vaccine hesitancy and complacency.

This week schools in the southern African country have become vaccination zones with children in school uniforms lining up to get the injections.

Many parents say they support the vaccination drive to prevent schools from becoming centers of infection, although others remain skeptical.

“Let them get vaccinated, it will save us a lot of trouble. Maybe it will stop the constant closures of schools … the online lessons drain us each time the schools are closed,” said Helen Dube, a parent walking her 12-year-old daughter to a school in the crowded Chitungwiza town, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of the capital, Harare.

“Plus, if schools are safe then we are also safe at home,” she said, referring to instances when schools have become centers of virus infection.

Zimbabwe is gradually returning to its normal school calendar after two years of intermittent and sometimes prolonged closures due to waves of COVID-19 cases.

Read the full story here.

—Farai Mutsaka, The Associated Press

American weekly jobless claims at lowest level since 1969

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week fell to its lowest level in 52 years as the U.S. job market continues to show strength in the midst of rising costs and an ongoing virus pandemic.

Jobless claims fell by 28,000 to 187,000 for the week ending March 19, the lowest since September of 1969, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time applications for jobless aid generally track the pace of layoffs.

The four-week average for claims, which compensates for weekly volatility, also fell to levels not seen in five decades. The Labor Department reported that the four week moving average tumbled to 211,750 from the previous week’s 223,250.

In total, 1,350,000 Americans were collecting jobless aid the week that ended March 12, another five-decade low.

Read the full story here.

—Matt Ott, The Associated Press

Poland abolishing practically all COVID-19 restrictions

Poland is abolishing practically all of its COVID-19 restrictions next week, a government official said Thursday.

People will no longer be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces starting Monday, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said. The only exception will be in medical facilities, where staff and patients will still need to wear them.

He said other measures being abolished include quarantine for some travelers arriving in Poland and home isolation for those living in households with those who test positive.

People who test positive will still be required to isolate at home.

The decision comes as the numbers of new infections have been falling.

“The most important element, however, is the situation in hospitals,” he said, explaining that the recent omicron-fueled wave led to fewer hospitalizations than earlier waves.

—The Associated Press
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Rich countries getting new COVID vaccine before poorer ones

The company behind a COVID-19 vaccine touted as a key tool for the developing world has sent tens of millions of doses to wealthy nations but provided none yet to the U.N.-backed effort to supply poorer countries, a sign that inequity persists in the global response to the pandemic.

COVAX had planned to make available 250 million doses from Novavax by March, but the U.N. agency in charge of deliveries says the first shipments now likely won’t be made until April or May.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. CEPI, one of the organizations leading COVAX, gave Novavax $388 million to fast-track the vaccine’s development, aimed at making the shot available in poorer countries as the pandemic was exploding two years ago.

The investment guaranteed COVAX the “right of first refusal” to the first Novavax doses, but the deal applied only to factories in the Czech Republic, South Korea and Spain, said CEPI spokesman Bjorg Dystvold Nilsson.

There are other factories that aren’t part of the deal — and their shots are going elsewhere.

Read the full story here.

—Maria Cheng and Aniruddha Ghosal, The Associated Press

What parents should know about Moderna’s COVID vaccine for youngest kids

Moderna said on Wednesday that it would seek emergency authorization of its coronavirus vaccine for children younger than 6, after interim results from its clinical trial showed that volunteers in that age group had a similar immune response to young adults when given a dose one-fourth as strong.

But the company said the vaccine proved only about 44% effective in preventing symptomatic illness among children 6 months to 2 years old, and 37% effective in children 2 through 5.

Dr. Jacqueline Miller, the firm’s senior vice president for infectious diseases, said the relatively low level of protection demonstrated the ability of the omicron variant to evade the vaccine’s shield. Nonetheless, she said, “what we have seen is a successful trial.”

“What I will say is 37.5% and 43.7% are higher than zero,” she said. “If I were the parent of a young child, I would want there to be some protection on board, especially if we see another wave of infections.”

The firm’s announcement comes as the Biden administration’s effort to protect people against an ever-mutating virus enters a new period of flux. Officials are debating whether the oldest Americans, at least, should be offered a second booster shot this spring. Meanwhile, various studies are seeking to determine whether the existing vaccines can be reconfigured to provide more protection against omicron and the subvariant of the virus known as BA.2.

Now, Moderna’s findings about how well its vaccine works in the nation’s youngest children — the only Americans not yet eligible for shots — are bringing another question to the forefront: What level of effectiveness is good enough for a pediatric vaccine?

Read the full story here.

—Sharon LaFraniere, The New York Times