Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
A joint World Health Organization-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely,” according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press. The report, which is expected to be made public today, is being closely watched since discovering the origins of the virus could help scientists prevent future pandemics — but it’s also extremely sensitive since China bristles at any suggestion that it is to blame for the current one.
Two Seattle coronavirus testing sites at Rainier Beach and West Seattle will continue testing for the disease instead of shifting to only administering vaccinations. Testing was set to end today, but the city decided to keep testing because of a surge of COVID-19 infections in Seattle during the past two weeks. Seattle had 713 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the past 14 days, an increase of 245 cases compared to the previous two-week period, when the city experienced 468 new cases.
"Vaccine breakthrough" cases identified in 18 counties, health officials say
Among the more than 1 million Washingtonians who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 102 people have tested positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after their vaccinations, the state Department of Health said Tuesday.
Those cases include eight people who have been hospitalized. Two deaths are also being investigated as possible “vaccine breakthrough” cases, the department said.
The vaccine breakthrough cases, which the department says are expected with any vaccine, represent .01% of the people who have been fully vaccinated and were tallied since Feb. 1, says a DOH news release issued Tuesday.
People with ties to Chicago hospital's executives improperly vaccinated
A Chicago hospital’s CEO has been suspended for two weeks following a series of COVID-19 vaccination events involving alleged favoritism, including one in which ineligible Trump Tower workers were vaccinated.
The unpaid suspension of Loretto Hospital’s president and CEO, George Miller, is on hold until the hospital finds a new chief operating officer and chief financial officer, a hospital spokeswoman said late Monday.
Dr. Anosh Ahmed, who had been Loretto’s COO and CFO, resigned last week, days after he and Miller were reprimanded by its board of directors following news reports that hospital executives provided COVID-19 vaccines to some people who weren’t yet eligible.
There have been at least six alleged incidents in which Loretto Hospital vaccinated people connected to the hospital’s executives, including to employees at downtown Chicago’s Trump Tower — where Ahmed owns a condo — Cook County judges and their spouses, as well as Miller’s suburban church, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Loretto Hospital is located on Chicago’s West Side and largely serves Black and Latino people.
State confirms 853 new coronavirus cases and 11 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 853 new coronavirus cases and 11 new deaths on Tuesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 363,235 cases and 5,237 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.
The new cases may include up to 200 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 20,490 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 49 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 90,333 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,464 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 3,245,982 doses and 16.3% 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 53,778 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.
Next slide, please: Inside wonky White House virus briefings
No matter how encouraging Andy Slavitt’s news is at the government’s coronavirus briefings, he can always count on next-up Dr. Rochelle Walensky to deliver a downbeat.
After the tumultuous briefings of the Trump era — when top doctors would troop to the podium in the White House press room only to be upstaged by spurious pronouncements from Donald Trump himself — the thrice-weekly virtual sessions of 2021 have taken on a more restrained and predictable rhythm.
The briefings generally open with Slavitt or Jeff Zients, the top White House official on the pandemic response, delivering an update on Biden’s latest efforts to contain the virus — a can-do if rather monotone message about what steps the administration is taking to protect people and get them vaccinated.
Next up is Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She brings the numbers.
Michigan’s Whitmer asks White House to surge vaccine to virus hot spots as cases climb
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, battling a surge of coronavirus infections in her state, appealed on Tuesday to White House officials to shift away from a strict population-based formula for vaccine allocation and instead rush more doses to hard-hit parts of the country.
“I know that some national public health experts have suggested this as an effective mitigation tool,” she said during the White House coronavirus response team’s weekly call with governors, according to a recording of the conversation obtained by The Washington Post. “And I know we’d certainly welcome this approach in our state.”
The inquiry reflects growing unease among state officials on the front lines of what health experts say could be a new wave of the virus already afflicting parts of Europe. And it illustrates the pressure President Joe Biden is under, even from members of his own party, to show he is taking steps to address disquieting trends after a prolonged period of declining infections.
Lawsuit demands immediate COVID-19 vaccinations for people incarcerated at Washington prisons
A legal-aid group is suing the state Department of Corrections, demanding COVID-19 vaccines be made immediately available for all people incarcerated in Washington prisons.
The class-action lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court by Columbia Legal Services also seeks an order banning direct contact with incarcerated people by DOC employees and contractors who refuse vaccines.
The lawsuit alleges the state’s refusal to promptly vaccinate the approximately 15,000 people living in prisons — where the infection rate is more than eight times higher than in the general population — violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Since the start of the pandemic last year, 6,190 people in DOC custody have tested positive for COVID-19, and 14 have died, according to DOC data. Another 1,149 DOC staff have tested positive and two died.
How hard have Seattle-area arts and culture groups been hit by pandemic closures? New data provides snapshot
It’s no surprise that arts and culture groups in Washington have endured significant financial losses since pandemic closures began, with staff furloughed or laid off and programming going online. A new survey released Tuesday from arts advocacy group ArtsFund gives a recent snapshot of how cultural organizations are doing.
The survey gathered data and responses from 77 arts and culture organizations in Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties — primarily music, visual arts, theater and multidisciplinary organizations — over the three-month period from January to March 2021.
Among the most striking data from the survey is the high percentage of layoffs and furloughs and the decreases in income that have come with the loss of in-person audiences and patrons.
As of January, 56% of the organizations surveyed still had staff furloughed or laid off due to the pandemic. That’s a decrease from the 74% of organizations that reported staff furloughs or layoffs in April 2020, when pandemic closures first started. Still, the amount these groups say they’re budgeting for personnel expenses in 2020-21 is 25% lower than in 2019-20 and 30% lower than in 2018-19, the pre-pandemic year.
145,000 hearts are being painted on a wall opposite Britain’s Parliament – one for each life lost to COVID-19
Opposite Britain’s Parliament, bereaved families of those lost to the coronavirus pandemic and hundreds of volunteers are hand-painting individual hearts on a half-mile-long wall that runs along the River Thames.
Each heart symbolizes a life lost to the virus – with at least 145,000 hearts to feature on the memorial by the time it is completed.
The National Covid Memorial Wall, coordinated by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said Monday that “each heart represents someone who was loved. Someone who was lost too soon to Covid-19,” adding that it would take, on average, 10 minutes for visitors to walk the length of the 6-foot-high wall.
“Like the scale of our collective loss, this memorial is enormous,” Matt Fowler, co-founder of the organization, said as those involved with the campaign expressed hope that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would visit the site.
French virus surge raises harrowing specter of ICU overloads
Internal projections by the Paris public hospitals authority, some of which were seen by The Associated Press, suggest that intensive care units in the region of 12 million people may soon have to find space for more critically ill patients than ever. Nationwide, the number of ICU patients has already eclipsed the levels of France’s last deadly surge i n autumn.
Increasingly, hospital indicators suggest that this new surge risks becoming the worst one yet, raising the pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron to reverse course and lock down the country once again, as he did in October and November.
The French situation echoes the recent experience of Britain, which saw infections surge in December as a more contagious virus variant took hold, before then spreading in France and elsewhere in Europe. But where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded by locking his country down again, Macron has instead pursued a strategy of trying to contain infections with softer measures and to outrun them with vaccinations.
Washington universities report another surge in COVID-19 cases as students begin spring term
As many college students return to campus for their spring term, some Washington schools are reporting another surge in COVID-19 cases, and are urging their communities to stay vigilant.
University of Washington officials are seeing an expected increase in infections among students, university spokesperson Victor Balta said Tuesday morning.
According to the UW’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard, 48 cases have been reported in the last 10 days, all affecting students enrolled at the university’s Seattle campus.
Western Washington University in Bellingham has reported 30 positive COVID-19 cases involving students living in residence halls in the past week, The Associated Press said Monday.
At Washington State University, school administrators said last week that student gatherings and parties that ignored basic safety and health protocols have directly resulted in an increase in COVID-19 cases, according to the AP.
Michigan fines barber over Capitol protest, other violations
A Michigan barber who defied Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and reopened his shop last spring during the coronavirus pandemic was fined $9,000 for violating licensing rules, including joining a protest where hairstylists cut hair on the Capitol lawn.
Karl Manke will appeal the penalties in court, his lawyer said.
The Board of Barber Examiners on Monday accepted an administrative law judge’s findings and issued the fines for violations — including barbering on the Capitol steps, where he was not licensed to operate. He also allowed used neck strips and piles of hair to accumulate on the floor in his Owosso barbershop and stored a comb in his shirt pocket instead of a covered container, according to the board, whose membership consists primarily of barbers.
The fines were levied against both Manke and his business, and $6,000 stemmed from his participation in the Capitol demonstration last May.
“It shows their pettiness, it shows their vindictiveness. The lack of proportionality here is almost breathtaking really,” he said.
The state declined to comment.
Small businesses strained by pandemic can apply for grants of up to $25,000 in Washington state
Starting Monday, many small businesses in Washington that have been financially hurt by COVID-19 restrictions can apply for grants of up to $25,000 from the state Department of Commerce.
The grants are part of a $240 million, fourth round of small-business relief through the state’s Working Washington program. The funds are aimed at helping small, brick-and-mortar businesses cover costs such as rent, as well as pandemic-related expenses such as extra sanitation and personal protective equipment.
The grants are available to businesses that operate from a physical location other than a residence and which had 2019 revenue between $25,000 and $5 million. According to the department, these “mainstreet businesses,” which often help anchor commercial cores and shopping districts, were often required to close or significantly reduce operations due to public-health restrictions.
World leaders call for pandemic treaty, but short on details
More than 20 heads of government and global agencies called for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness that they say will protect future generations in the wake of COVID-19.
But there were few details to explain how such an agreement might actually compel countries to act more cooperatively.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leaders including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Premier Mario Draghi of Italy and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda proposed “a renewed collective commitment” to reinforce preparedness and response systems by leveraging the U.N. health agency’s constitution.
“The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one,” Tedros said during a news conference. He said the treaty would provide “a framework for international cooperation and solidarity” and address issues like surveillance systems and responding to outbreaks.
Vietnam flight attendant gets probation for quarantine slip
A Vietnamese court on Tuesday sentenced a flight attendant to two years probation for violating COVID-19 quarantine rules and spreading the virus to others, become the first person in the country to stand trial for such offences, state media said.
Duong Tan Hau, 29, was found guilty of the charges for leaving his home during a mandatory home quarantine routine after he returned from a trip to Japan while working for the national carrier Vietnam Airlines, Vietnam News Agency reported.
The newspaper said Hau frequently met a friend, who is a teacher, went to a cafe and attended an exam at an English center in Ho Chi Minh city before he tested positive for the virus in November.
At the time, Vietnam had not recorded a local case of COVID-19.
At least three people associating with Hau, including the teacher, later tested positive for the virus, the newspaper said.
The outbreak led several schools to temporarily close and more than 2,200 people in the chain of contact were told to quarantine and practice social distancing.
According to Health Ministry figures, Vietnam has reported 2,594 cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths since the pandemic began.
Turkey reinstates restrictions after sharp virus cases rise
Turkey is reinstating weekend lockdowns in most of Turkey’s provinces and will also impose restrictions over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan following a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
Virus infections in Turkey have soared less than a month after the country divided its 81 provinces into four color-coded categories and relaxed restrictions in some provinces under a “controlled normalization” effort.
The number of confirmed daily infections have since almost tripled to around 30,000, matching the record numbers that were reported in December. The country is also reporting around 150 deaths per day, up from around 65 at the start of the month.
AstraZeneca shots halted in parts of Germany for under-60s
Several health authorities in Germany announced Tuesday that they are again suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for residents under age 60 amid fresh reports of unusual blood clots in people who recently received the shots.
The country’s medical regulator said it had received a total of 31 reports of rare blood clots in recent recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine by March 29. Nine of the people died and all but two of the cases involved women aged 20 to 63, the Paul Ehrlich Institute said.
Reports of an unusual form of blood clot in the head, known as sinus vein thrombosis, prompted several European countries to temporarily halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month. After a review by medical experts, the European Medicines Agency concluded the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
Western Washington University reports COVID-19 outbreak
Western Washington University in Bellingham has reported 30 positive COVID-19 cases involving students living in residence halls in the past week.
According to a school alert sent out Monday, Western’s Student Health Center and the Whatcom County Health Department have tied the sharp increase in new cases to the residence areas, The Bellingham Herald reported.
The outbreak was initially thought to be tied to off-campus parties and other large social gatherings.
According to the school’s COVID dashboard, Western Washington had 49 COVID-positive results in 13,291 tests run (0.37%)
Catch up on the past 24 hours
A surge of COVID-19 infections in Seattle has zapped the city's plan to switch two testing sites to vaccination stations today. Here's the latest on where to get tested and how to get a vaccine.
Ninety percent of Americans will be eligible for their shots by April 19, President Joe Biden said yesterday as he expanded the number of vaccine sites. Biden's warning that "we’re giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains" against the virus came after the CDC director, her voice cracking, spoke about her sense of "impending doom." More than a dozen states are opening vaccines to all adults this week, but Washington isn't among them.
How long will vaccines protect us? The answer may vary from person to person. Much is unknown, but researchers are finding some clues.
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