Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, March 25, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 company that developed a COVID-19 vaccine meant to be accessible to developing countries through a United Nations initiative, reportedly sent tens of millions of doses to wealthy countries — but has yet to provide any to the UN agency in charge of the vaccine sharing initiative.
The UN was expecting a quarter-million doses by March after an organization leading the initiative provided $388 million so the company, Novavax, could fast-track its vaccine’s development.
At the same time, the European Union’s drug regulator advised the European Commission to authorize use of Evusheld, an antibody medication that helps immunocompromised and vulnerable individuals avoid contracting 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.
State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,081 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 1,375 on Thursday. It also reported 40 more deaths over those days.
The update brings the state's totals to 1,451,227 cases and 12,432 deaths, meaning that 0.86% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
In addition, 59,090 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 97 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 372,323 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,655 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,190,377 doses and 67% 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 4,627 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.
COVID-19 rates plunge as decision nears on US asylum limits
One by one, a voice called out the names of 169 people just released by U.S. Border Patrol. Migrants rose from folding chairs in a clinic warehouse and walked to a table of blue-robed workers, who swabbed their mouths.
All but two Cuban women tested negative for COVID-19 that February morning. They were quarantined to motel rooms, while other migrants boarded chartered buses to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport for flights across the U.S.
Theirs were among just seven of 5,301 tests the Regional Center for Border Health near Yuma, Arizona, did last month for released migrants that were positive — a rate of 0.1%
COVID-19 rates are plunging among migrants crossing the border from Mexico as the Biden administration faces a Wednesday deadline to end or extend sweeping restrictions on asylum that are aimed at limiting the virus’ spread. Lower rates raise more questions about scientific grounds for a public health order that has caused migrants to be expelled from the United States more than 1.7 million times since March 2020 without a chance to request asylum.
While there is no aggregate rate for migrants, test results from several major corridors for illegal border crossings suggest it is well below levels that have triggered concerns among U.S. officials.
The omicron subvariant BA.2 is on the rise. We need to take it seriously, experts say
There are increasing signs that the omicron subvariant BA.2 is on the rise, even as the daily reported number of coronavirus cases continues to fall.
The jury is still out as to whether BA.2 — which is 30% to 60% more contagious than the original omicron variant that raced through California over the winter — may spark another spike. But given how the latest strain has upended trendlines in other parts of the globe, many public health officials are urging caution.
Here’s what you need to know:
The big picture
The World Health Organization this week reported coronavirus cases were rising globally again.
Philippine vote campaign starts amid violence, virus fears
Candidates for Philippine congressional seats and thousands of smaller races started campaigning Friday with police watching closely due to past violence and to enforce a pandemic ban on handshakes, hugging and tightly packed crowds that are a hallmark of the country’s often circus-like campaigns.
Campaigning for the presidency and other high-profile races began last month. Nearly 66 million Filipinos in the country and more than 1.6 million abroad have registered to vote in the May 9 elections for more than 18,000 local government and congressional posts.
Social media has become a key battleground for votes after two years of lockdowns and home quarantine restrictions in a Southeast Asian country that was hit hard by coronavirus outbreaks. The last alarming spike occurred in January before easing with an intensified vaccination campaign. Many fear election disinformation could worsen in a country regarded as one of the world’s top internet users.
Is another COVID surge coming? 5 things to know about subvariant BA.2
Florida is barely over the omicron wave that caused unprecedented numbers of COVID-19 cases and overwhelmed hospital systems with infected patients and staff. But a new subvariant of the coronavirus has already emerged and appears to be more contagious, raising concern that another pandemic wave of infections is on the way.
Though COVID-19 cases are falling in Florida and most of the country, epidemiologist and public health experts warn that the omicron subvariant called BA.2 is driving an increase in cases in Western Europe and elsewhere and may follow a familiar pattern with infections rising in the United States.
There are still many unknowns about the potential for BA.2 to spark another surge, including the level of baseline immunity from vaccination and prior infection, and the relaxation of masking, social distancing and other measures to mitigate transmission of the virus.
To understand what lies ahead, the Miami Herald interviewed public health experts about BA.2 and its potential to throw communities into disarray once again.
Among their advice, check CDC and local health department data to assess the level of COVID-19 transmission in your community and take appropriate mitigation measures to reduce your risk of getting infected.
Moderna sees 1-in-5 odds of dangerous future COVID variant
Chances are roughly one in five that new COVID-19 variants will arise that are more dangerous than the current versions, Moderna’s chief executive officer said.
The more likely scenario is that vulnerable people, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, will need annual boosters for protection against strains that are similar in virulence to omicron, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg TV. The CEO spoke on the day of a company event detailing its research and progress with messenger RNA vaccines.
Moderna is working to reassure investors about its longer-term growth prospects as the new cases decline following the winter spread of highly transmissible omicron. However, omicron’s BA.2 subvariant continues to circulate, leading to concerns about a resurgence and the emergence of new strains of the virus with greater power to infect and sicken.
“I think there’s an 80% chance that the variants that we’re going to see in the future are manageable from a severity standpoint and vaccine production,” Bancel said in the interview. “But I think we should always be very cautious, because there’s a 20% chance that something happens in some of the new variants that is very virulent.”
Greece: Independence Day parade held with spectators allowed
Thousands of people lined the streets in central Athens as fighter jets flew overhead and tanks rolled down the street outside Parliament during Greece’s independence day parade Friday, the first to be open to spectators in two years as coronavirus restrictions ease.
Due to the pandemic, only officials were allowed to attend last year’s military parade marking the March 25, 1821 start of Greece’s revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The 2020 parade was canceled as part of lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Working remotely, some transgender people saw an opportunity to change
For years, Deke Wilson, was ambivalent about undergoing a medical transition to male. He felt it was critical for his happiness, but there were plenty of reasons to put it off: the expense, the difficult recovery, the potential medical complications.
But while sitting at home during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, Wilson said he felt the urgency. “You’re trying so hard to avoid getting this one sickness,” he said. “Why? Because you want to live — you want to experience life fully to the best you can. For me, that means being comfortable in my skin.”
Wilson, who works at a logistics company in Cleveland, underwent five surgeries from March through December last year at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, recovering while working from home. He expects to return to in-person work this month.
For some transgender people, the era of remote work during the pandemic provided an opportunity to take the next steps in their transitions, according to interviews with more than 30 transgender people, their doctors and advocates.
Data on medical transitions during the pandemic remains hard to come by, although anecdotal evidence from the interviews suggests an increase in surgeries compared with previous years. No database tracks the total number of people in the United States who undergo medical transitions each year, but seven regional and local health care providers reported stronger demand for transition operations in 2021, compared with 2020, when many surgeries were paused because of the pandemic. Demand was also higher in 2021 compared with 2019, before the pandemic.
Contagious omicron subvariant in Oregon
An extra-contagious version of the omicron variant that is fueling COVID-19 surges in parts of Europe and Asia has been found in the wastewater of some Oregon communities.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that Oregon State University collected samples from more than 40 wastewater plants statewide, providing officials with measures of how much virus is in a community and the particular variants of the virus. Based on the collection in early March the omicron subvariant has been found in at least four communities
But Dr. Melissa Sutton, the Oregon Health Authority’s medical director for respiratory viral diseases, said the findings don’t guarantee another severe surge. Sutton, who is working with Oregon State University analysts, pointed to existing immunity among Oregonians due to vaccinations or from infections during the recent omicron surge.
In addition, officials announced on Wednesday that the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 daily data update dashboard and variants dashboard now specify the omicron BA.2 subvariant separately from the other omicron subvariants. This includes the total people who tested positive for the variant.
Experts worry about how US will see next COVID surge coming
As coronavirus infections rise in some parts of the world, experts are watching for a potential new COVID-19 surge in the U.S. — and wondering how long it will take to detect.
Despite disease monitoring improvements over the last two years, they say, some recent developments don’t bode well:
—As more people take rapid COVID-19 tests at home, fewer people are getting the gold-standard tests that the government relies on for case counts.
—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon use fewer labs to look for new variants.
—Health officials are increasingly focusing on hospital admissions, which rise only after a surge has arrived.
—A wastewater surveillance program remains a patchwork that cannot yet be counted on for the data needed to understand coming surges.
—White House officials say the government is running out of funds for vaccines, treatments and testing.
“We’re not in a great situation,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Brown University pandemic researcher.
COVID vaccinations — including boosters — fall to lowest levels since 2020
With another pandemic surge possibly on the way, vaccination for the coronavirus in the United States has all but ground to a halt, with initial doses and boosters plummeting to the lowest levels since the program began in late December 2020.
On Wednesday, the seven-day average of vaccinations fell to fewer than 182,000 per day, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. That is lower than at any time since the first days of the program.
The daily total has been in free fall for the past six weeks. On Feb. 10, the nation was averaging more than 692,000 shots a day. Booster shots have been more common than first or second doses since October, and the low rates have long caused concern among some experts.
Now, with authorities bracing for a possible increase in COVID-19 cases caused by the BA.2 subvariant, 65.4 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and just 44 percent have received a booster shot. That is substantially less than the totals in many Western European nations – which nevertheless have seen a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks and months.
German health minister: no ‘freedom day’ from COVID yet
Germany’s health minister said Friday that it’s too soon to declare a ‘freedom day’ from COVID-19 as the virus continues to run rampant, claiming hundreds of lives each day.
The country’s disease control agency reported 296,498 newly confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, and 288 deaths.
German lawmakers voted last week to let most federal rules on wearing masks and testing expire. But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach urged the country’s 16 states to use their powers to ensure social distancing and other safety measures in virus hotspots.
“The pandemic isn’t over by a long shot,” Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin. “There can be no talk of a ‘freedom day.’ Quite the contrary.”
He said the real number of daily infections wasn’t known but could be twice that currently reported. Hospitals in particular were having to cancel procedures due to large numbers of sick staff, he added.
China continues ‘severe and complex’ fight against COVID-19
China continues to battle its worst COVID-19 outbreak, driven by the omicron variant, with health officials on Friday calling the situation “severe and complex.”
The country has counted more than 56,000 cases since March 1, according to national health officials, who gave a press briefing Friday. More than half of those cases have been recorded in northeastern Jilin province and include asymptomatic cases as well. The numbers do not include Hong Kong, which tracks its COVID-19 data separately.
China continues striving to “achieve dynamic zero-COVID in the short term, as it is still the most economical and most effective prevention strategy against COVID-19,” said Wu Zunyou, an infectious disease expert at China’s Center for Disease Control.
“Only by doing dynamic zero-COVID can we eliminate the hidden dangers of the epidemic, avoid the run on medical resources that may be caused by large-scale infections and prevent a large number of possible deaths of the elderly or those with underlying diseases,” Wu added.
‘I felt disillusioned and abandoned:’ A Seattle medical worker on why mental health care is needed in the field
Editor’s note: This story focuses on suicide and other topics related to psychiatric distress. If you or a loved one is in crisis, resources are available here.
Those who work in health care are often the victims of mental illness themselves. In early 2020, the industry became crushed under the COVID-19 pandemic that neither health care workers nor society were adequately prepared to bear. As turmoil continued, the damage to health care workers became more severe.
Compassion fatigue set in. The long hours, the brutal conditions, the constant presence of death, and the fear that this relentless virus would inevitably infect them caused many veterans of the industry to leave.
As of late 2021, nearly 75% of health care workers reported exhaustion, depression, sleep disorders and PTSD. About 45% of health care workers feel they have inadequate emotional support. It is estimated that by the end of 2022, the American health care system will have a shortage of 1.1 million nurses. And finally: The suicide rate of health care workers is 2.2 times higher than the general population. Who heals the healers?
Depression and anxiety have afflicted me my entire life. Through decades of treatment, my condition was in remission when I made the decision to enter the health care field in January of 2020 as a certified medical assistant.
Like many newcomers, I had ambitions of helping others and society. These dreams were quickly dashed as I discovered a field of underappreciated, overworked and underpaid workers. I was bullied and harassed. My mental health was gradually strained, to the point of my suicide attempt last year.
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