Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, May 1, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
There’s little hope King County can avoid retreating to the more restrictive Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan under his COVID-19 rules, Public Health – Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said Friday. Bars, restaurants, retail stores and gyms must reduce indoor capacity from 50% to 25% capacity, among other shifts, should an assessment on Monday declare the county no longer qualifies for Phase 3. Any changes would take effect Friday.
Washington has logged more than 182 coronavirus outbreaks in school buildings this school year, with a slim majority of school-linked infections in children and teenagers age 18 and younger, according to a new Department of Health report released Friday afternoon. The findings generally fit with previous government reports about COVID-19 in Washington schools: a narrow majority of those who tested positive were children or young adults. And a majority of outbreaks involved a small number of cases, usually two to three, and sprung up in schools that were using in-person or hybrid learning models.
With 600 Pfizer doses about to expire, Snohomish County officials urge residents to make a Sunday appointment
About 600 soon-to-expire doses of Pfizer vaccine are available Sunday at the Ash Way Park & Ride vaccination clinic in Lynnwood for anyone 16 and older, and health officials are urging residents who haven’t yet received a shot to come by to prevent vaccine waste.
The vaccine clinic is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, and it offers both drive-thru and walk-up appointments, according to the Snohomish Health District. Residents are encouraged to register online, but on-site registration is also available.
The Pfizer doses are approaching expiration at the end of day, the health district said.
Las Vegas hitting jackpot as pandemic-weary visitors crowd back
LAS VEGAS — To Mike Anger in Midland, Michigan, a $100 round-trip airline flight and $260 for five nights at a Las Vegas hotel made it too easy to say yes.
“How could I turn that down?” the 39-year-old electrician asked, holding a tall vodka drink, basking in 90-degree temperatures, and soaking in the sights of street entertainers and tourists on Friday in a downtown casino pedestrian mall.
“I’m having a blast,” said his friend, cosmetologist Jade Topor. “Pretty much what I expected.”
Las Vegas has been almost elbow-to-elbow lately with pandemic-weary tourists looking for excitement and entertainment, after casinos rose from 35% to 50% occupancy March 15 under state health guidelines.
Capacity limits in Las Vegas casinos drop again Saturday — allowing 80% occupancy — while person-to-person distancing goes from 6 feet to 3 feet. Masks are still required.
‘London to Delhi’ cycle raises cash for India’s COVID crisis
LONDON — For British IT consultant Yogen Shah, India’s COVID-19 crisis is deeply personal.
The pictures of people hooked up to oxygen bottles on the streets of New Delhi and patients sharing beds in overcrowded hospitals remind him of his uncle in India, who recently contracted the disease.
So Shah joined volunteers from one of Britain’s largest Hindu temples who set out to raise 500,000 pounds ($690,000) by racking up 7,600 kilometers (4,722 miles) on stationary bikes — roughly the distance from London to Delhi — in 48 hours.
“I think every single person of Indian origin will have someone affected over there,” Shah, 40, said Saturday outside the temple in northwest London. “And anywhere around the world that you have COVID, you feel for that human being, you feel for that person, whether they’re Indian origin or not.”
The ride at Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London’s Neasden neighborhood is one of many fundraising drives taking place across the U.K. as members of the Indian diaspora seek to help India battle the raging pandemic. The British Asian Trust, a charity founded by Prince Charles, has launched an emergency appeal to buy oxygen concentrators, which can extract oxygen from the air when hospital supplies run short.
Faith, freedom, fear: Rural America’s COVID vaccine skeptics
As the beautiful Appalachian spring unfurls across northeastern Tennessee, the COVID-19 vaccine is tearing apart friends, families, congregations, colleagues.
“It’s a muddy mess,” said Meredith Shrader, a physician assistant, who runs an events venue with her husband, another pastor, and who notes that the choice has become about much more than health care. “Which voice do you listen to?”
Communities like Greeneville and its surroundings — rural, overwhelmingly Republican, deeply Christian, 95% white — are on the radar of President Joe Biden and American health officials as efforts to vaccinate most of the U.S. population enters a critical phase. These are the places where polls show resistance to the vaccine is most entrenched. While campaigns aimed at convincing Black and Latino urban communities to set aside their vaccine mistrust have made striking gains, towns like these will also have to be convinced if the country is to achieve widespread immunity.
But a week here in Greene County reveals a more nuanced, layered hesitancy than surveys suggest. People say that politics is not the leading driver of their vaccine attitudes. The most common reason for their apprehension is fear — that the vaccine was developed in haste, that long-term side effects are unknown. Their decisions are also entangled in a web of views about bodily autonomy, science and authority, plus a powerful regional, somewhat romanticized self-image: We do not like outsiders messing in our business.
Virus-hit Russia reports 25% death increase in January-March
MOSCOW — Russia’s state statistical service says the number of deaths nationwide in the first three months of 2021 was more than 25% higher than the same period a year ago, and it reported thousands more deaths due to COVID-19 in March than tallied by the country’s coronavirus task force.
More than 583,000 people died in January-March of this year in Russia, compared with 460,000 for those months in 2020, the Rosstat agency said in a report issued Friday.
The agency did not provide an explanation for the sharply higher death toll, but critics have suggested that Russian officials underplay the severity of the pandemic in the country.
The national coronavirus task force counted more than 12,300 deaths from COVID-19 in March, but Rosstat gave a substantially higher number. The agency said there were 15,003 deaths that month in which coronavirus was the leading cause, along with 2,454 cases in which COVID-19 was believed to be the leading cause and 1,401 deaths in which COVID-19 influenced other diseases and accelerated death.
State health officials confirm 1,653 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,653 new coronavirus cases on Saturday.
The update brings the state's totals to 404,709 cases and 5,499 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. Friday, though the state does not report new death data on weekends or update its data dashboard on Sundays.
The new cases may include up to 100 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 22,333 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 102,349 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,515 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 5,394,469 doses and 29.87% 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 58,732 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.
May Day protesters demand more job protections amid pandemic
PARIS — Workers and union leaders dusted off bullhorns and flags that had stayed furled during coronavirus lockdowns for slimmed down but still boisterous — and at times violent — May Day marches on Saturday, demanding more labor protections amid a pandemic that has turned economies and workplaces upside down.
In countries that mark May 1 as International Labor Day, the annual celebration of workers’ rights produced a rare sight during the pandemic: large and closely packed crowds, with marchers striding shoulder-to-shoulder with clenched fists behind banners.
In Turkey and the Philippines, police prevented the May Day protests, enforcing virus lockdowns and making hundreds of arrests. In France, some marchers battled with riot police.
For labor leaders, the day was a test of their ability to mobilize workers in the face of the profound economic disruptions.
Pope prays for COVID pandemic’s end and for a ‘horizon of hope’
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis in a special prayer service on Saturday in St. Peter’s Basilica invoked the end of the pandemic and a return of what he called “a horizon of hope,” including a scenario in which scientists can figure out how to conquer the coronavirus.
Francis led an evening rosary service attended by about 200 rank-and-file faithful, including many children, who sat spaced apart according to COVID-19 protocols.
Speaking softly, Francis lamented how the pandemic has left so many people “anguished, bewildered and weeping for their dear ones who have died, buried sometimes in a way that wounds the soul.”
Invoking the intercession of the Virgin Mary with God, Francis prayed that “this hard trial end and that a horizon of hope and peace return.”
Francis also prayed for health care workers on the front lines and as well as for “the men and women of science, so that they find right solutions to conquer this virus.”
Canada's vaccine regulator pushes pause on J&J rollout
Canada’s drug and vaccine regulator said Friday it was withholding the release of the Johnson & Johnson shipment to verify its safety and quality after learning an "active ingredient" used in the drugs had been manufactured in a factory that has faced scrutiny over possible contamination.
Inspectors from the FDA found the factory, Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore, had problems with the factory’s disinfection practices, it size and design, and how it handled raw materials and trained its workers. Emergent was forced to discard enough raw vaccine for up to 15 million Johnson & Johnson doses because of fears they had been contaminated with an ingredient in another vaccine.
How will camps keep kids safe this summer?
After more than a year of pandemic lockdown, there is "huge demand" for camps this summer, according to the YMCA. Administrators are preparing to implement hard-earned lessons about how to keep campers safe from the coronavirus -- and they're studying "what not to do" from a major coronavirus outbreak at one overnight summer camp in Georgia last year.
The changes aren't rocket science. Campers can expect to wear masks most of the time, stay socially distanced, have their symptoms checked daily and be broken into small groups that interact only with each other. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also recommending overnight campers be fully-vaccinated, if possible.
And some beloved camp traditions may not make an appearance this year.
Watchdog on COVID-19 recovery funds says other agencies are impeding his ability to work
The Treasury Department's special inspector general for pandemic recovery -- the official charged with monitoring the trillions of dollars in government pandemic relief for fraud and double-dipping -- said in a report that his powers to scrutinize funds had been curtailed.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel have blocked the inspector's access to information about and oversight of the Payroll Support Program and the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the Treasury Department inspector, Brian Miller, said in the report.
In the report, Miller, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, suggested that the “temperature has cooled on oversight” and said flatly that “things are not working well.” He warned that there would be negative consequences as a result.
Delta Air Lines stops blocking middle seats
Saturday marks the end of a pandemic era in the air: no more social distancing on flights.
Delta was the final holdout, ending its practice of blocking middle seats on Saturday. That is more than a year after the airline first introduced the practice as the coronavirus cratered the number of air travelers.
Other major U.S. carriers have long since returned to full flights. American and United starting selling all their seats last summer. Southwest started doing the same in December, and Alaska Airlines and JetBlue followed in January.
The company says the change will provide “a powerful tool for improving our financial performance.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though, has warned that social distancing on airplanes can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, contradicting an industry-funded study.
How the COVID pandemic led to a rental car crisis
Just as Americans are about ready to bust loose on vacation, steps rental car companies took to survive the pandemic travel shrinkage are leaving many struggling to find cars.
More than 1 of every 3 rental cars that were in service before the pandemic are no longer available after rental car companies shed 770,000 cars to trim costs last year, according to the investment bank Jeffries Group.
The crunch is leaving some consumers with sticker shock at the high prices quoted for car rental. And more broadly, the rental car squeeze is a signal that economic recovery from the pandemic may not be entirely smooth, experts say.
The political vaccine divide in Washington state is widening — and COVID rushes in
A widening political divide is exacerbating COVID denialism and vaccine resistance in Washington, making a cautionary saga out of what is supposed to be the last days of the pandemic, writes columnist Danny Westneat.
In the old gold-mining town of Republic, out in northeastern Washington, for instance, local officials tried it all to get people to vaccinate for the coronavirus -- radio spots, church outreach and reminders in utility bills.
That didn't stop townspeople from attending a poker night three weeks ago at the local Eagles lodge, followed by a karaoke singalong the next night. Now COVID-19 is coursing through Ferry County, where hospitalizations have nearly doubled since the twin superspreader events last month while vaccination rates remain well under state averages.
At the root of the outbreak in Ferry County, Westneat writes, is hardening anti-government attitudes among conservative Washingtonians.
Will the pandemic make us nicer? Probably not.
For those of us lucky to emerge from the past year intact – physically, mentally, financially – there are many reasons to be grateful. Theoretically, we could use this experience to become more thoughtful and intentional, less judgmental and reactive. We could appreciate more and criticize less. We could, in a word, be nicer.
Those feelings of altruism, though, aren't likely to last, experts say -- and if history is any guide, as we return to a more normal lifestyle, we're likely to swing hard in the other direction, towards recklessness. (Carpe diem, baby!)
The pandemic, though, could change us in other ways.
Vaccine companies and the U.S. government snubbed WHO initiative to scale up global manufacturing
Last May, the World Health Organization launched an effort to train dozens of pharmaceutical manufacturers in Latin America, Asia and Africa to increase worldwide production of vaccines once they came on the market.
But the program, known as the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, has been stymied by Pfizer's and Moderna's refusal to participate -- leaving dozens of mostly poor countries without a reliable supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
The dire situation could have been avoided, experts say.
“The sole reason these vaccines aren’t being produced widely by other makers is because these companies [Pfizer and Moderna] don’t want to give up their monopoly,” said Matthew Kavanagh, the director of the Global Health Policy and Governance Initiative at Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute.
COVID-19 surges in Oregon
Amid a cresting wave of new COVID-19 cases that has sickened younger adults, many parts of Oregon are headed back into more lockdown restrictions.
On Friday, Gov. Kate Brown placed 15 counties in an “extreme risk” category, banning indoor dining at restaurants and limiting the number of patrons at gyms. She said the return to restrictions could save hundreds of lives and prevent as many as 450 hospitalizations over the next three weeks.
She imposed the restrictions after cases rose by 51% in two weeks, the fastest increase in the nation, and hospitalizations jumped by more than a third. As cases declined in much of the rest of the country, Oregon lurched in the opposite direction.
Inslee relaxes mask guidelines for long-term care facilities
In an attempt to counter what Gov. Jay Inslee's office called "stark social isolation" in long-term care facilities, fully vaccinated residents can meet with one another and participate in group activities without masks according to new guidance from the state.
The change comes amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in many Washington counties. Long-term care facilities have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
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