Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, March 31, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Ivermictin, which has been used as an alternative treatment for COVID-19 despite a lack of “strong research,” showed no sign of alleviating the virus, according to recently published large clinical trial results.

As U.S. states continue to close mass COVID-19 test sites and shed mask mandates, health officials warn about an uptick in cases as omicron’s highly transmissible BA.2 variant becomes the dominant strain in the country.

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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German panel recommends booster for recipients of 4 vaccines

Germany’s independent vaccination advisory panel is recommending a booster shot with a messenger RNA vaccine for people who have had a full course of four Chinese, Indian and Russian COVID-19 vaccines that aren’t currently approved for use in the European Union.

In a draft recommendation Thursday, the panel, known by its German acronym STIKO, said the advice applies to people given a full course and also a booster of the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, the Indian-made Covaxin and Russia’s Sputnik V.

The German panel said that people who have received only a single shot of the four vaccines and those who've had vaccines not cleared by the EU should start a new vaccination series.

Scientists believe that mixing and matching vaccines prompts a better immune response.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Size of COVID package could shrink to $10B as talks continue

The size of a bipartisan package to provide fresh spending to combat COVID-19 could shrink to $10 billion, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday, and the chamber’s top Democrat also suggested its price tag could fall.

Negotiators have been trying for weeks to revive a $15.6 billion compromise they had agreed to earlier this month. That fell apart after House Democrats rejected cuts in pandemic aid to states to help pay for it, and the parties remain divided over how to find savings both sides can accept.

The new money would be to purchase vaccines, treatments and tests, which the administration says are running low, even as the more transmissible omicron variant BA.2 spreads quickly in the U.S. and abroad.

Read the story here.

—Alan Fram, The Associated Press

Novavax asks EU regulator to clear COVID vaccine for teens

The pharmaceutical developer Novavax says it has asked the European Medicines Agency to extend the authorization of its coronavirus vaccine to children aged 12 to 17 amid a surge of disease across the continent.

In a statement on Thursday, Novavax said its request is based on data from research in more than 2,200 adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the U.S., which found its vaccine to be about 80% effective against COVID-19. The study was done when the delta variant was the predominant virus in the U.S. The main side effects reported were pain at the injection site, headache and tiredness.

The EU drug regulator gave Novavax’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine for adults the green light in December; the shot has also been cleared by Indonesia, Australia and the World Health Organization, among others. The EMA has previously OK’ed vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna for use in children from age 6.

Read the story here/

—The Associated Press

Truck convoy leaves D.C. area after weeks of traffic-snarling protests

The group of truckers calling themselves the “People’s Convoy,” which protested vaccine mandates and other right-wing grievances by driving around the Washington region for more than three weeks, has left its Western Maryland home base Thursday morning to challenge proposed coronavirus vaccine and health-related bills in California.

The protest failed to accomplish any of its stated demands and recently saw dwindling numbers, fractures among supporters, pushback from local residents and activists and road blockages from District of Columbia police.

Organizers instructed the group to pack up from the Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway — where they have been based since arriving from Southern California on March 4 — before heading across the country to an April 10 anti-vaccine mandate rally in Los Angeles.

Read the story here.

—Ellie Silverman, The Washington Post
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‘A cry for help’: CDC warns of a steep decline in teen mental health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of an accelerating mental health crisis among adolescents, with more than 4 in 10 teens reporting that they feel “persistently sad or hopeless,” and 1 in 5 saying they have contemplated suicide, according to the results of a survey published Thursday.

“These data echo a cry for help,” said Debra Houry, a deputy director at the CDC. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental well-being.”

The findings draw on a survey of a nationally representative sample of 7,700 teens conducted in the first six months of 2021, when they were in the midst of their first full pandemic school year. They were questioned on a range of topics, including their mental health, alcohol and drug use, and whether they had encountered violence at home or at school. They were also asked about whether they had encountered racism.

Although young people were spared the brunt of the virus — falling ill and dying at much lower rates than older people — they might still pay a steep price for the pandemic, having come of age while weathering isolation, uncertainty, economic turmoil and, for many, grief.

It’s not the first time officials have warned of a mental health crisis among teens. In October, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, saying that its members were “caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, and their communities.”

Read the story here.

—Moriah Balingit, The Washington Post

Everyone is not OK, but back at work anyway

For the past two years, people have struggled to do their work — whether in hospitals or restaurants, in shops or schools — while knotted up with the fear and uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis.

Now, some have gotten the message that their employers are trying to restore an old status quo. Dozens of companies are calling workers back to the office: Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Chevron, The Washington Post. And some worry that they aren’t prepared for the emotional transition awaiting a workforce already on edge.

In a McKinsey study of more than 2,900 people last year, one-third of those who had just returned to the office said going back had negatively affected their mental health. The will-they-won’t-they saga of office reopenings hasn’t helped, making it tough to prepare for a new routine.

“So much of our humanity has been exposed,” Klein Modisett said. “There’s kind of no turning back. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

Read the story here.

—Emma Goldberg, The New York Times

England ends free virus tests under ‘living with COVID’ plan

The British government is ending the supply of free rapid coronavirus tests to most of the population even though COVID-19 infections remain at record levels, and health officials warn the pandemic could still have nasty surprises in store.

More than 1.7 billion test kits have been handed out in workplaces, pharmacies and by mail over the past year, the government says, under a policy that encouraged people to test themselves regularly as a way to stamp out new outbreaks.

Tests will remain free for staff in high-risk settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and prisons, but under the government’s “Living with COVID” plan most other people in England will now have to pay. Some free testing will continue for several weeks in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Read the story here.

—Jill Lawless, The Associated Press
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States close mass test and vaccine sites, but uptick in virus may loom

As Americans shed masks and return to offices and restaurants, local and state officials are scaling back the most visible public health efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic.

States like Illinois are shuttering free COVID-19 testing sites after nearly two years of operation. Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Ohio have stopped releasing daily data on virus hospitalizations, infections and deaths. And, perhaps most notably, some places are diminishing their campaigns to vaccinate residents even as federal authorities announced Tuesday that people 50 and older could get a second booster shot.

The slowing of state and local efforts comes as the virus in the United States appears, at least for now, to be in retreat, with cases falling swiftly in recent weeks.

But the cutbacks also arrive at a moment when a more transmissible version of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, known as BA.2, is spreading through Europe, Asia and is now the dominant version of new virus cases in the United States. New coronavirus infections are edging upward once again in several states.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

Ivermectin does not reduce risk of COVID hospitalization, large study finds

Anti-parasitic drug ivermectin, which has surged in popularity as an alternative treatment for COVID-19 despite a lack of strong research to back it up, showed no sign of alleviating the disease, according to results of a large clinical trial published Wednesday.

The study, which compared more than 1,300 people infected with the coronavirus in Brazil who received either ivermectin or a placebo, effectively ruled out the drug as a treatment for COVID-19, the study’s authors said.

“There’s really no sign of any benefit,” said Dr. David Boulware, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota.

The researchers shared a summary of these results in August during an online presentation hosted by the National Institutes of Health, but the full data set had not been published until now in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Read the story here.

—Carl Zimmer, The New York Times

China reopens one city as Shanghai lockdown enters 2nd phase

The city of Shanghai prepared Thursday to reopen its eastern half and shut its western half, while authorities elsewhere announced the lifting of a citywide lockdown in the province hit hardest by China’s omicron-driven coronavirus outbreak.

Residents of Jilin will be able to move about freely starting Friday for the first time in more than three weeks, state broadcaster CCTV said, citing a city notice. They will be required to wear masks and, when indoors, stay 1 meter (3 feet) apart. Public gatherings in parks and squares are prohibited.

The spread of COVID-19 has been brought under control in Jilin but not in the rest of Jilin province, officials said at a news conference. Some progress has been made in Changchun, the provincial capital and an auto manufacturing hub that has been locked down since March 11.

China has been battling its largest COVID-19 outbreak since the initial one in early 2020 that devastated the city of Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province. By far, most of the cases have been in Jilin province, which borders North Korea in China’s industrial northeast. Smaller outbreaks have popped up across the country, including Shanghai, the financial capital and China’s largest city with 26 million people.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Japan celebrates cherry blossoms despite pandemic

People across Japan are celebrating the peak cherry blossom viewing season this week without COVID-19 restrictions in place for the first time in two years. But many are limiting their viewing to strolling under the trees rather than drinking and eating in traditional party style.

Trees are in full bloom this week in many parts of Japan. They peaked in Tokyo 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.

In many areas, viewers were requested not to gather under the trees for drinking parties — a traditional way of celebrating the season — as part of continuing anti-virus measures.

At Yoyogi and Ueno parks, areas were roped off to prevent people from sitting down and partying. Many parks put up signs forbidding parties with alcohol.

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

View the full gallery here.

—MARI YAMAGUCHI The Associated Press

End of COVID may bring major turbulence for US health care

When the end of the COVID-19 pandemic comes, it could create major disruptions for a cumbersome U.S. health care system made more generous, flexible and up-to-date technologically through a raft of temporary emergency measures.

Winding down those policies could begin as early as the summer. That could force an estimated 15 million Medicaid recipients to find new sources of coverage, require congressional action to preserve broad telehealth access for Medicare enrollees, and scramble special COVID-19 rules and payment policies for hospitals, doctors and insurers. There are also questions about how emergency use approvals for COVID-19 treatments will be handled.

The array of issues is tied to the coronavirus public health emergency first declared more than two years ago and periodically renewed since then. It’s set to end April 16 and the expectation is that the Biden administration will extend it through mid-July. Some would like a longer off-ramp.

Transitions don’t bode well for the complex U.S. health care system, with its mix of private and government insurance and its labyrinth of policies and procedures. Health care chaos, if it breaks out, could create midterm election headaches for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Read the full story here.

— RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

COVID-19 infections are rising in King County as omicron's BA. 2 variant spreads, but the county health officer says this isn't cause for serious alarm. 

The CDC is dropping its warning about cruising, although outbreaks continue to pop up on ships.

A large study has found "no sign of any benefit" from the controversial drug ivermectin.

—Kris Higginson