Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, March 29, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a second booster dose for people 50 years or older in an attempt to provide additional protection to one of the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Legislature passed a bill to would prohibit businesses from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for employment or service and prevent unvaccinated people from being “discriminated against.”

Some legislators criticized the bill, which would penalize business owners with a misdemeanor or $1,000 fine, as being harmful to businesses already struggling under the pandemic, particularly small businesses.

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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Ukraine invasion could spell end to Russian hopes for Sputnik vaccine

We may be talking about a Russian military disaster now, but not so long ago, we were talking about a potential global health success for Russia. Just a year ago, Moscow’s quickly approved coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, looked to be in ascendance, casting off initial Western skepticism. The respected British medical journal Lancet published a peer-reviewed paper that found the vaccine had high efficacy. Dozens of countries would go on to grant emergency approval to Sputnik V.

Global health experts celebrated. Cheaper and easier to store than some other vaccines, Sputnik V looked likely to fulfill an important international need. But it was also a diplomatic tool for the Kremlin. While the vaccine had been developed using adenovirus technology by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, it was backed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund.

One key aim appeared to be restoring international views of Russian scientific research, once lauded but in decline for decades. It wasn’t subtle. The vaccine was named after the satellite that saw the Soviets beat the United States in the space race. But here could be a Russian triumph all of the world could share in: Kirill Dmitriev, RDIF chief executive, said there was the capacity to vaccinate 700 million people outside of Russia in 2021 alone.

Even then, however, not everyone was receptive. Ukrainian lawmakers approved a bill that officially banned vaccines made in Russia. The decision was at least partly based on geopolitical concerns: Moscow had already supplied the vaccine to the separatists it was backing in eastern Ukraine. Last year, when I asked Pavlo Kovtoniuk, Ukraine’s deputy minister of health from 2016 to 2019, about the move, he said the health benefits of Sputnik V couldn’t be separated from Ukraine’s national security concerns about Russia.

Read the full story here.

— Adam Taylor, The Washington Post
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EU regulator starts reviewing Spanish COVID vaccine booster

The European Union’s drug regulator said Tuesday it has begun an accelerated review process for an experimental coronavirus vaccine booster made by the Spanish company Hipra.

The European Medicines Agency said in a statement that its evaluation is based on preliminary data from laboratory studies and research in adults that compared Hipra’s booster shot to the vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech. It said early results suggest the immune response achieved with Hipra “may be effective” against COVID-19, including the hugely infectious omicron variant.

Hipra is a protein-based vaccine and is made using similar technology as the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, which was authorized by the EMA and other agencies in December.

Hipra is intended to be a booster shot in people who have been fully vaccinated with a messenger RNA vaccine or a vector-based vaccine, like the ones made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Until now, Hipra has mainly focused on making vaccines for animals.

Scientists believe using different types of vaccines can increase the body’s immune response and numerous countries have adopted a “mix-and-match” strategy for COVID-19 vaccination.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Women of Lesotho’s garment industry lose jobs, hope in COVID

Vekile Sesha stood outside the rusted gates of a garment factory in the industrial district of Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, willing her luck to change. Four months earlier, the blue jeans factory where she worked nearby abruptly shut, blaming plummeting demand from the Western brands it supplied amid the pandemic.

She had loved the job fiercely: “I was talented, and I was doing something that was needed by the world.” Her monthly paycheck of 2,400 loti (about $150) supported a constellation of family members in her rural village. “Because of me, they never slept on an empty stomach,” she said.

Every day since, Sesha, 32, has been fighting to get that life back. On this morning, with a furious sun overhead, she joined a line of about 100 job-seekers outside the blue aluminum shell of a factory that supplies pants and athletic shirts to American chain stores.

As gates swung open, Sesha and the other women surged forward. A manager called out skills he needed: “Cutting. Sewing. Marking.” But a few minutes later, the gates slammed shut and Sesha fell back — she did not get one of the temporary jobs.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the world two years ago, the global fashion industry crumpled. Faced with collapsing demand, brands canceled orders worth billions of dollars and factories across Africa and Asia went belly up. Few felt the effects as harshly as the tens of millions of workers, most of them women, who stitched the world’s clothes.

Read the full story here.

—MAJIRATA LATELA and RYAN LENORA BROWN The Associated Press

Americans ease up on masks, virus safeguards: AP-NORC poll

Many Americans have taken significant steps back from once-routine coronavirus precautions, with less than half now saying they regularly wear face masks, avoid crowds and skip nonessential travel.

Americans are letting down their guard even as experts warn a new wave of COVID-19 cases is coming. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows fewer people taking protective measures than at any point in AP-NORC polls conducted since early 2021.

The poll found 44% say they often or always wear a face mask around people outside of their homes, down from 65% in January when infections of the highly contagious omicron variant were soaring. Just 40% say they’re largely avoiding nonessential travel, compared with 60% in January. And 47% say they regularly stay away from large groups, down from 65% in January.

Most Americans say they at least sometimes still follow those safeguards. But they’re increasingly returning to pre-pandemic norms as coronavirus infections have fallen to their lowest level since July.

Read the story here.

—Russ Bynum and Emily Swanson, The Associated Press
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Florida, other states challenge CDC transit mask rule

Florida and 20 other states sued Tuesday to halt the federal government’s requirement that people wear masks on planes, trains, ferries and other public transportation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tampa, Florida, contends that the mask mandate exceeds the authority of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A rule of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, effective Feb. 1, 2021, requires “the wearing of masks by people on public transportation conveyances or on the premises of transportation hubs,” according to the agency website. The rule has been relaxed somewhat, to end requirements for certain buses and so forth, but was recently extended until at least April 18 for domestic and international travel in general.

Still, Florida and the other states are pressing on with their lawsuit, which comes amid a partisan divide over the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and issues of government control versus individual rights.

Read the story here.

—Curt Anderson, The Associated Press

Navy barred from acting against religious vaccine refusers

A federal judge in Texas is barring the Navy from taking action for now against sailors who have objected to being vaccinated against COVID-19 on religious grounds.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor had in January issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Navy from disciplining or discharging 35 sailors who sued over the Navy’s vaccine policy while their case played out. On Monday, O’Connor agreed the case could go forward as a class action lawsuit and issued a preliminary injunction covering the approximately 4,000 sailors who have objected on religious grounds to being vaccinated.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last year made vaccinations mandatory for service members. More than 99% of the Navy’s active duty force has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Navy has also discharged 650 people for refusing to be vaccinated. Navy guidelines allow for exemptions to the vaccine requirement on religious and other grounds, including medical reasons and if a service member is about to leave the Navy.

Read the story here.

—Jessica Gresko, The Associated Press

Japan enjoys cherry flower season despite COVID-19 worries

People across Japan are celebrating the peak cherry blossom viewing season one week after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, triggering concerns of a possible virus resurgence.

Trees are in full bloom this week in many parts of Japan. The peak in Tokyo was on Sunday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, attracting many people who had avoided participating in the national tradition for two years because of the pandemic.

At Chidorigafuchi Park, a famous “hanami” or cherry blossom viewing spot northwest of the Imperial Palace, thousands of people viewed the fluffy pale pink flowers while strolling under rows of trees or from rowboats on the palace moat.

“I feel like life has finally gotten back to normal. Here in the downtown area, people have waited for this for so long,” Takanori Shiwaku, a 62-year-old café owner, said as he admired the blossoms at the park.

He said cherry blossoms, which bloom and then fall en masse, connote a sense of pureness.

“I wanted to come here for sure this year, and I’m really happy,” said Midori Hayashi, a 75-year-old retiree who has largely stayed at home for the past two years.

Read the story here.

—Mari Yamaguchi and Chisato Tanaka, The Associated Press
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Denmark adds COVID-19 extremism in terror assessment

Denmark’s domestic security on Tuesday designated pandemic-linked “antigovernmental extremism” as a menace for the first time ever.

The agency, known by its Danish acronym PET, said in its annual assessment that although this type of extremism is not “a significant driving force for the terrorist threat” in the country, it does make the situation “more complex.”

PET said the menace which expresses the need to use violence against elected representatives, had appeared in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The general terrorism threat Denmark is “serious”, defined as having the “capacity, intention and planning,” PET said. Militant Islamism still constitutes the most significant terrorist threat against the Scandinavian country and Danish interests abroad.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Shanghai lockdown tests ‘zero-COVID’ limits, shakes markets

Chinese authorities sought to reassure companies and jittery investors on Tuesday as a two-phase lockdown of Shanghai’s 26 million people entered its second day, casting an unusual quiet over the normally bustling center of finance, manufacturing and trade.

The omicron outbreak in Shanghai is one of a series across the country that is testing the government’s ability to enforce a strict “zero-COVID” strategy without overly disrupting the economy and people’s daily lives.

The shutdown has added to anxiety in financial markets over Russia’s war on Ukraine, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s effort to cool surging inflation by raising interest rates and other challenges facing the global economy.

Market reactions including Monday’s 7% drop in oil prices in London don’t reflect the “true reality of the situation,” but investors already were uneasy about China and the global economy, said Michael Every of Rabobank.

Read the story here.

—Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press

Former Port Angeles doctor sentenced for selling misbranded drugs, including fake COVID cure

A former Port Angeles naturopathic physician was sentenced to eight months in prison and one year supervised release after being found guilty of selling products he claimed could prevent numerous serious diseases, including COVID-19.

Richard Marschall, 69, was convicted in 2021, after a four-day trial, of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, his third conviction, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

At the sentencing hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle said, “It is extremely dangerous during the COVID epidemic for people to be engaged in conduct that would lead other people to defer and wait to receive medical care.”

“Mr. Marschall has a history of lying to patients about their health and his proposed treatments. His lies in this case are particularly troubling because he employed them when advising others about a deadly pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “As people became fearful and searched for answers, Marschall touted an unproven treatment as a miracle cure for the deadly disease.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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FDA OKs another Pfizer, Moderna COVID booster for 50 and up

U.S. regulators on Tuesday authorized another COVID-19 booster for people age 50 and older, a step to offer extra protection for the most vulnerable in case the coronavirus rebounds.

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision opens a fourth dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to those people at least four months after their previous booster.

Until now, the FDA had cleared fourth doses only for people 12 and older who have severely weakened immune systems. The agency said this especially fragile group also can get an additional booster, a fifth shot.

The latest expansion, regardless of people’s health, allows an extra shot to millions more Americans — and the question is whether everyone who’s eligible should rush out and get it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to weigh in.

The move comes at a time of great uncertainty. COVID-19 cases have dropped to low levels after the winter surge of the super-contagious omicron variant. Two vaccine doses plus a booster still provide strong protection against severe disease and death, CDC data show.

Read the story here.

—Lauran Neergaard and Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press

Hong Kong’s COVID toll leads some to eco-friendlier coffins

Hong Kong’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak has cost about 6,000 lives this year – and the city is now running out of coffins.

Authorities have scrambled to order more, with the government saying 1,200 coffins had reached the city last week with more to come.

Space constraints make cremation a common burial practice in the densely populated island territory off the Chinese mainland, and the coffins typically are wood or wood substitutes.

To answer the shortage of them due to the COVID-19 toll, some companies are offering alternatives such as an environmentally friendly cardboard coffin.

LifeArt Asia has cardboard coffins made of recycled wood fiber that can be customized with designs on the exterior. In its factory in Aberdeen, a southern district of Hong Kong, up to 50 coffins can be produced a day.

CEO Wilson Tong said there is still some resistance to using caskets made of cardboard. “(People feel that) it’s a little bit shameful to use so-called paper caskets. They feel that this is not very respectful to their loved ones,” Tong said.

Read the full story here.

—ALICE FUNG and JANICE LO, The Associated Press

Coronavirus deaths in U.S. fall to lowest point since summer

Fewer than 800 coronavirus deaths are being reported each day in the United States, the lowest daily average since before the omicron variant took hold late last fall. The last time the rate was this low was in mid-August, according to a New York Times database.

Trends in deaths lag behind cases and hospitalizations by weeks because of the time it takes for people to become seriously ill, and the time needed to complete and file death records.

The seven-day average of new cases has also dropped significantly from the height of the omicron surge. Though the decrease has slowed in recent days, the average has hovered this past week around 30,000 cases per day, a level last seen in July. Coronavirus hospitalizations plummeted in the past two weeks by about 36%, to about 18,000 per day. Intensive care unit hospitalizations have fallen too — by about 43% — to under 3,000.

But as cases increased in parts of Europe, scientists and health officials have already been warning of another rise in U.S. cases and, with it, the first major test of the country’s strategy of living with the virus while limiting its effect. Top U.S. health officials reiterated concerns last week about the impact of stalled COVID-19 response aid amid the spread of BA.2, a highly transmissible omicron subvariant accounting for about 35% of new U.S. cases and a form of the virus similar to what swept through the nation this winter.

A growing number of U.S. states are reporting fewer daily updates, saying that metrics like hospitalizations and wastewater monitoring have become more relevant than daily case reports. Still, Kentucky, New York, Colorado and Texas are among a few states that are showing a rise in new cases over the past two weeks.

Read the full story here.

—Adeel Hassan The New York Times
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UK police fine 20 people over ‘partygate’ virus scandal

British police are fining 20 people over parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff during coronavirus lockdowns, and say that more people could face penalties.

The Metropolitan Police force said Tuesday it wouldn’t identify the recipients of the fixed penalty notices, though Johnson’s office said it would reveal if he gets one.

Opponents, and some members of the governing Conservative Party, have said that Johnson should resign if he is issued a fine for breaking rules he imposed on the rest of the country during the pandemic.

Dozens of politicians and officials have been investigated over allegations that the government flouted its own pandemic restrictions. Police sent questionnaires to more than 100 people, including the prime minister, and interviewed witnesses as part of the investigation.

Confirming that it had authorized 20 fines, the police force said officers were working through a “significant amount of investigative material” and more people could face penalties later.

The “partygate” scandal had left Johnson’s tenure precarious before Russia launched a war in Ukraine more than a month ago that gave Britain’s politicians more urgent priorities.

Read the full story here.

—JILL LAWLESS The Associated Press