Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, March 30, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Health experts are warning about the racial disparities in long COVID-19 diagnoses and treatment, pointing to the prevalence of long COVID-19 in the Black community and a lack of access to treatment.

Meanwhile, a former Washington doctor was sentenced to eight months in prison followed by one year of supervised release for selling misbranded drugs and a fake COVID-19 cure.

Idaho and 20 other states filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, in an attempt to to halt the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirement that people wear masks on planes, trains, ferries and other means of public transportation as a safety precaution during the pandemic.

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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BioNTech’s quarterly profit soars on COVID-19 vaccine demand

BioNTech, the German pharmaceutical company that teamed with Pfizer to develop the first widely used COVID-19 vaccine, on Wednesday reported strong quarterly earnings growth on pandemic-fueled demand.

The company posted net profit of nearly 3.2 billion euros ($3.6 billion) for the final three months of 2021, up from 367 million euros in the same period the previous year. Earnings per share rose to 12.18 euros from 1.43 euros a year ago.

Quarterly revenue rose to 5.5 billion euros from 345.4 million euros previously.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 621 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 954 on Tuesday. It also reported 24 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,454,772 cases and 12,478 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. Tuesday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In addition, 59,232 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 34 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 373,801 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,671 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,209,435 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 4,356 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.

—Daisy Zavala

CDC drops COVID-19 health warning for cruise ship travelers

Federal health officials are dropping the warning they have attached to cruising since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving it up to vacationers to decide whether they feel safe getting on a ship.

Cruise-ship operators welcomed Wednesday’s announcement, which came as many people thought about summer vacation plans.

An industry trade group said the move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention validated measures that ship owners have taken, including requiring crew members and most passengers to be vaccinated against the virus.

The CDC removed the COVID-19 “cruise ship travel health notice” that was first imposed in March 2020, after virus outbreaks on several ships around the world.

However, the agency expressed reservations about cruising.

Read the full story here.

— David Koenig, The Associated Press

Biden receives 2nd booster, presses Congress on virus funds

President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass billions of dollars in additional funding to fight the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, as he received a second booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine a day after federal regulators approved a fourth shot for those aged 50 and older.

Biden spoke as his administration rolled out COVID.gov, designed to be a one-stop website to help people in the United States access COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments, along with status updates on infection rates where they live. Biden pressed lawmakers to provide additional funding “immediately” to ensure continued supply of the tools that have helped the nation begin to emerge from the pandemic.

“Congress, we need to secure additional supply now,” he said, warning of shortages of vaccines, tests and treatments. “This isn’t partisan, it’s medicine.”

Read the story here.

—Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
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Researchers say they’ve found a better way to test for COVID

Imagine being able to swab the inside of your mouth, place it in a device and quickly know whether you’re infected with COVID-19.

Johns Hopkins University researchers say they have developed a simple sensor that could quickly and accurately detect the virus that causes COVID-19 in saliva.

The sensor isn’t on the market yet, but soon could revolutionize testing, the researchers say. It could be stationed at the entrances of hospitals, airports and schools, and potentially be put into handheld and even wearable devices.

It also can detect other viruses.

In testing, the sensor was as accurate as PCR tests, the current gold standard in testing during the pandemic that requires lab processing. It also was as fast as rapid antigen tests, the at-home kits that have become prevalent but aren’t as good picking up cases.

Read the story here.

—Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

Los Angeles ends its business vaccine verification mandate

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to end its mandate for many indoor businesses and operators of large outdoor events to verify that customers have been vaccinated against COVID-19, joining a wave of big U.S. cities that have relaxed the restriction.

The measure by council President Nury Martinez received enough votes to pass as an urgent measure so it can take effect quickly after it receives the mayor’s signature and is published by the city clerk.

It was not immediately clear how soon the measure would reach the mayor’s office, but the verification ordinance will not be enforced in the meantime because of the council vote, said Sophie Gilchrist, communications director for Martinez.

Businesses are still allowed to require vaccination verification for their clients.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

AP sources: Asylum limits at border expected to end May 23

The Biden administration is expected to end the asylum limits at the U.S.-Mexico border by May 23 that were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to people familiar with the matter.

The decision, not yet final, would halt use of public health powers to absolve the United States of obligations under American law and international treaty to provide haven to people fleeing persecution, and would apply to all asylum-seekers.

Ending the limitations in May would allow for time to prepare at the border, the people said. But the delay runs against the wishes of top Democrats and others who say COVID-19 has long been used as an excuse for the U.S. to get out of asylum obligations.

It also raises the possibility that more asylum-seeking migrants will come to the border at a time when flows are already high. The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that about 7,100 migrants were coming daily, compared with an average of about 5,900 a day in February and on pace to match or exceed highs from last year, 2019 and other peak periods.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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COVID-19 infections again rising in King County. No cause for alarm yet, say health officials

COVID-19 infections are again on the rise in King County as omicron’s more infectious subvariant, BA. 2, continues to spread throughout Washington state — but there’s no cause for alarm yet, according to the county’s top health officer.

The county’s COVID trends have stayed fairly consistent for the past couple months, after the surge of the omicron variant peaked in early to mid-January. Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s health officer, said that virus levels were plateauing up until last week.

“There has been a clear change in the trend direction in King County,” Duchin said in an interview. “For the first time in awhile now, we’re seeing small but measurable increases in cases and hospitalizations.”

Over the past week, the county saw a 33% increase in infections, from 170 to 230 daily cases, and a 35% increase in hospitalizations, from three to four daily hospitalizations, Public Health — Seattle & King County spokesperson Gabriel Spitzer said Tuesday.

Read the story here.

—Elise Takahama

Experts warn of racial disparities in diagnosis, treatment of long COVID

It has long been clear that Black Americans have experienced high rates of coronavirus infection, hospitalization and death throughout the pandemic.

But those factors are now leading experts to sound the alarm about what will most likely be the next crisis: a prevalence of long COVID-19 in the Black community and a lack of access to treatment.

Long COVID has perplexed researchers, and many are working hard to find a treatment for people experiencing it, but health experts warn that crucial data is missing: Black Americans have not been sufficiently included in long COVID trials, treatment programs and registries, according to the authors of a new report released Tuesday.

“We expect there are going to be greater barriers to access the resources and services available for long COVID,” said one of the authors, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of Yale University’s health equity office and former chair of President Joe Biden’s health equity task force.

“The pandemic isn’t over, it isn’t over for anyone,” Nunez-Smith said. “But the reality is, it’s certainly not over in Black America.”

The report, called the State of Black America and COVID-19, outlines how disinvestment in health care in Black communities gave rise to Black people contracting COVID at higher rates than white people. They were more likely to face serious illness or death as a result.

Read the story here.

—Lola Fadulu, The New York Times

Should you get another COVID booster? Consider these factors

Aiming to protect Americans who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized a second booster dose of COVID vaccine for all adults 50 and older. The agency’s decision comes as a highly contagious omicron subvariant known as BA. 2 pummels Europe and threatens to do the same to the United States.

But the scientific evidence for a fourth dose is incomplete, at best, and researchers do not agree on whether the shots are needed.

The most compelling data supporting another booster comes from an Israeli study that found that adults older than 60 who got a fourth dose were 78% less likely to die of COVID than those who got only three shots. The study was posted online last week and has not yet been reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.

“The Israeli study, in terms of mortality rate, is decisive,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Read the story here.

—Apoorva Mandavilli, The New York Times
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Tensions flare in Alaska House over masking, floor sessions

Tensions are flaring in the Alaska House over masking rules imposed during a COVID-19 outbreak, with floor sessions cut short or canceled and minority Republicans decrying what they called delay tactics with the chamber yet to debate a state spending package.

House Speaker Louise Stutes said Monday that masks would be required in the House chambers until further notice, citing COVID-19 cases. The Kodiak Republican later recessed a floor session, saying there were members who had “chosen not to comply” with the directive.

In a statement, she said several House members had tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days and that the plan had been to read the budget across Monday and “take it up later this week with the hope that these members would be able to return in time.”

A floor session scheduled for Tuesday was canceled “after it was made clear that a portion of the minority once again had decided to disregard the rules of the chamber by not wearing a mask to session,” said Joe Plesha, the House majority coalition communications director.

Plesha, in a statement, said there were more than 20 active COVID-19 cases involving people who work around the Capitol.

Read the story here.

—Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press

WHO: COVID deaths jump by 40%, but cases falling globally

The number of people killed by the coronavirus surged by more than 40% last week, likely due to changes in how COVID-19 deaths were reported across the Americas and by newly adjusted figures from India, according to a World Health Organization report released Wednesday.

In its latest weekly report on the pandemic, the U.N. health agency said the number of new coronavirus cases fell everywhere, including in WHO’s Western Pacific region, where they had been rising since December.

About 10 million new COVID-19 infections and more than 45,000 deaths were reported worldwide over the past week, following a 23% drop in fatalities the week before.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Into the wild: Animals the latest frontier in COVID fight

To administer this COVID test, Todd Kautz had to lay on his belly in the snow and worm his upper body into the narrow den of a hibernating black bear. Training a light on its snout, Kautz carefully slipped a long cotton swab into the bear’s nostrils five times.

For postdoctoral researcher Kautz and a team of other wildlife experts, tracking the coronavirus means freezing temperatures, icy roads, trudging through deep snow and getting uncomfortably close to potentially dangerous wildlife.

They’re testing bears, moose, deer and wolves on a Native American reservation in the remote north woods about 5 miles from Canada. Like researchers around the world, they are trying to figure out how, how much and where wildlife is spreading the virus.

Scientists are concerned that the virus could evolve within animal populations – potentially spawning dangerous viral mutants that could jump back to people, spread among us and reignite what for now seems to some people like a waning crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has served as a stark and tragic example of how closely animal health and human health are linked. While the origins of the virus have not been proven, many scientists say it likely jumped from bats to humans, either directly or through another species that was being sold live in Wuhan, China.

And now the virus has been confirmed in wildlife in at least 24 U.S. states, including Minnesota. Recently, an early Canadian study showed someone in nearby Ontario likely contracted a highly mutated strain from a deer.

Read the story here.

—Laura Ungar, The Associated Press
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Biden administration launches COVID website for 1-stop info

The Biden administration is launching what it says is a one-stop website that will help people in the United States access COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments, along with status updates on infection rates where they live.

President Joe Biden planned remarks Wednesday afternoon to announce the rollout of covid.gov.

A White House fact sheet says the government has worked since the start of the Biden administration to set up more than 90,000 vaccination sites, distribute more than 400 million high-quality masks free of charge, send free test kits directly to people’s homes and set up “test to treat” sites where people can be tested for COVID-19 and receive treatment onsite if they receive a positive result.

“Now, with a click of a button, people will be able to find where to access all of these tools,” the White House said. People will also be able to find the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on COVID-19 in their community.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Should you get another COVID booster? A UW immunologist is among experts outlining the factors to consider. The U.S. yesterday approved a fourth dose for older Americans but stopped short of telling them to rush out and get it, and scientists are split on whether it's needed. The day is likely approaching when Americans of all ages will confront this decision. 

Taking a COVID test could get way less icky. Researchers say they've found a better way that could soon revolutionize testing for multiple viruses.

—Kris Higginson