Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, May 12, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Moderna officials requested the Food and Drug Administration authorize its vaccine for children ages 6 to 11 earlier this week. The vaccine elicits a strong immune response in children in that age group, according to researchers.
Meanwhile, North Korea went into a nationwide lockdown this week after its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak was reported. While the size of the outbreak remains unknown, the country’s poor health care system and the likelihood that most citizens a are unaccinated is causing concern.
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.
‘Fiery’ Psaki ending tenure as a top White House messenger
Jen Psaki had been White House press secretary less than two weeks when a reporter asked whether Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump had made President Joe Biden’s life easier.
“We don’t spend a lot of time talking about or thinking about President Trump here,” she responded, then added for emphasis: “Former President Trump.”
It was an early indication of what was to come with this press secretary. Her briefings were professional and typically congenial, but could turn pointed in a hurry. The sessions were informative but generally lacked the drama to draw big ratings on cable television.
Psaki, who got COVID-19 twice while on the job and whose last day on the job is Friday, has answered reporters’ questions nearly every weekday of the almost 500 days that Biden has been in office. That makes her a top White House communicator and perhaps the administration’s most public face after only the president and Vice President Kamala Harris. Her departure could complicate how Biden’s message gets out at a critical time for him, at least in the short term.
N. Korea reports 6 deaths after admitting COVID-19 outbreak
North Korea said Friday that six people died and 350,000 have been treated for a fever that has spread “explosively” across the nation, a day after its first acknowledgement of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The true scale is unclear, but a big COVID-19 outbreak could be devastating in a country with a broken health care system and an unvaccinated, malnourished population. North Korea, which likely doesn’t have sufficient COVID-19 tests and other medical equipment, said it didn’t know the case of the mass fevers.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said of the 350,000 people who developed fevers since late April, 162,200 have recovered. It said 18,000 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Thursday alone, and 187,800 people are being isolated for treatment.
One of the six people who died was confirmed infected with the omicron variant, KCNA said, but it wasn’t immediately clear how many of the total illnesses were COVID-19.
Biden urges world to renew COVID fight as US nears 1M deaths
President Joe Biden appealed to world leaders on Thursday for a renewed international commitment to attacking COVID-19 as he led the U.S. in marking the approaching “tragic milestone” of 1 million deaths at home from the virus. He ordered flags lowered to half-staff and warned against “complacency” around the globe.
“This pandemic isn’t over,” Biden told the second global pandemic summit. “Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, 1 million COVID deaths — 1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 999,000 people in the U.S. and at least 6.2 million people globally since it emerged in late 2019, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Biden issued a proclamation Thursday directing that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff through sunset on Monday to honor those who lost their lives to the virus.
The president called on Congress to provide more funding for testing, vaccines and treatments, something lawmakers have been unwilling to deliver so far.
The lack of funding — Biden has requested another $22.5 billion of what he calls critically needed money — is a reflection of faltering resolve at home that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic.
Creeping COVID-19 cases result in few schools mask mandates
U.S. COVID-19 cases are up, leading a smattering of school districts, particularly in the Northeast, to bring back mask mandates and recommendations for the first time since the omicron winter surge ended and as the country approaches 1 million deaths in the pandemic.
The return of masking in schools is not nearly as widespread as earlier in the pandemic, particularly as the public’s worries over the virus have ebbed. But districts in Maine, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have brought masks back, with a few in Massachusetts also recommending them even as the school year enters its final weeks.
In parts of Massachusetts that have seen high levels of COVID-19 transmission, authorities are also recommending masks in schools.
Reported daily cases in the U.S. are averaging 79,000, up 50% over the past two weeks, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That’s a fraction of where daily case counts stood earlier this year, when they topped 800,000.
Massachusetts to pay $56M after deadly COVID outbreak at veterans home
Massachusetts said Thursday that it had agreed to pay $56 million to resolve claims that the leaders of a state-run nursing home for military veterans showed deliberate indifference during a coronavirus outbreak that was linked to the deaths of at least 76 residents early in the pandemic.
An independent investigation had painted a picture of chaos at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home when the virus began sweeping through it in March 2020, and had sharply criticized the leaders for combining veterans from two locked dementia units into one unit, crowding those who were infected or showing symptoms with those who did not have symptoms.
A social worker said it “felt like it was moving the concentration camp, we were moving these unknowing veterans off to die.” A nurse described it as “total pandemonium.”
Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, accepting the findings of the investigation in June 2020, called them “nothing short of gut-wrenching.”
Slightly more Americans seek jobless aid last week
The number of Americans applying for jobless aid ticked up slightly last week but the total number of Americans collecting benefits remained at its lowest level in more than five decades.
Applications for unemployment benefits rose by 1,000 to 203,000 for the week ending May 7, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time applications generally track the number of layoffs.
The four-week average for claims, which evens out some of the weekly ups and downs, rose 4,250 from the previous week to 192,750.
The total number of Americans collecting jobless benefits for the week ending April 30 fell by 44,000 from the previous week to 1,343,000. That’s the fewest since January 3, 1970.
American workers are enjoying historically strong job security two years after the coronavirus pandemic plunged the economy into a brief but devastating recession. Weekly applications for unemployment aid have been consistently below the pre-pandemic level of 225,000 for most of 2022, even as the overall economy contracted in the first quarter.
Last week, the government reported America’s employers added 428,000 jobs in April, leaving the unemployment rate at 3.6%, just above the lowest level in a half-century. Hiring gains have been strikingly consistent in the face of the worst inflation in four decades, with employers adding at least 400,000 jobs for 12 straight months.
N. Korea fires 3 ballistic missiles amid 1st virus outbreak
North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea on Thursday, its neighbors said, in the latest of a series of weapons demonstrations this year that came just hours after it confirmed its first case of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
The launches could underscore North Korea’s determination to press ahead with its efforts to expand its arsenal despite the virus outbreak to rally support behind the leader, Kim Jong Un, and keep up pressure on its rivals amid long-dormant nuclear diplomacy.
Thursday’s launches were the North’s first weapons fired since the inauguration of new conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday.
North Korea has a history of rattling new governments in Seoul and Washington in an apparent bid to boost its bargaining chips in future negotiations. The North Korean nuclear threat will likely top the agenda when Yoon meets visiting U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul next week.
Both South Korea and Japan condemned the launches from the North’s capital region on Thursday afternoon.
The missiles plunged into the waters between North Korea’s eastern coast and outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said. There was no report of damage to aircraft or vessels.
South African firm says it may close its COVID vaccine plant
The first factory to produce COVID-19 vaccines in Africa says it has not received enough orders and may stop production within weeks, in what a senior World Health Organization official described Thursday as a “failure” in efforts to achieve vaccine equity.
South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare said that it cannot let its large-scale sterile manufacturing facilities sit idle, and will return instead to making anesthetics. At the outset of the COVID pandemic, the company shifted its production and achieved capacity to produce more than 200 million doses annually of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“It was widely hailed as a great achievement for Africa, a game-changer for the continent. But it has not been followed up with orders. We have not received any orders from the big multilateral agencies,” Stavros Nicolaou, senior executive for strategic trade development at Aspen Pharmacare, told The Associated Press Thursday.
“COVAX has placed orders for 2.1 billion doses of COVID vaccines and not a single one has been placed with Aspen or any other African manufacturers,” said Nicolaou, referring to the U.N.-backed effort to distribute coronavirus vaccines to poorer countries.
Nicolaou said the lack of orders “is not great for Africa’s ambition to reduce its dependence on imported vaccines from 99% to 40%. If we fail at this first step, this is bad not just for Aspen but for all others aspiring to make vaccines in Africa.”
Multnomah County urges everyone to wear masks indoors
Multnomah County health officials in Portland, Oregon, are asking people to wear masks indoors until new COVID-19 counts and hospitalizations start to decline.
Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said it is not a mandate but a request for everyone to put their masks back on for a few weeks as they go to school, work and other indoor events, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Officials strongly recommend people wear masks in schools.
County officials have not set a case or hospitalization threshold for when they would consider mandating masks, a spokesperson for the health department said.
Multnomah County has been averaging about 350 new cases a day, up from less than 100 in early April.
The current COVID-19 wave is expected to peak in about a month, according to an Oregon Health & Science University forecast.
Moderna vaccine provokes strong immune response in children 6 to 11
Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine elicits a strong immune response in children ages 6 to 11, researchers reported Wednesday — another signpost in what has become a long and tortuous road to protecting young children against the virus, even as cases again inch upward.
On Monday, Moderna requested authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for the vaccine’s use in this age group.
Last month, Moderna asked the FDA to authorize its vaccine for use in children 6 months to 6 years old.
In the United States, just more than 1 in 4 of the 28 million children ages 5 to 11 have been immunized against the coronavirus.
In its trial, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Moderna first tested different doses of its vaccine and chose a dose of 50 micrograms — half the adult dose — for children ages 6 to 11. The researchers then randomly assigned more than 4,000 children to receive two shots 28 days apart.
The children who received the vaccine produced antibody levels that were slightly higher than those seen in young adults, a promising sign. The trials were not large enough to assess the vaccine’s ability to forestall severe disease or death.
Biden to order flags to fly at half-staff as U.S. COVID toll nears 1 million
President Joe Biden, anticipating the milestone of 1 million American lives lost to COVID-19, said in a formal statement on Thursday that the United States must stay committed to fighting a virus that has “forever changed” the country.
“We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible, as we have with more testing, vaccines and treatments than ever before,” he said. “It’s critical that Congress sustain these resources in the coming months.”
The statement came hours before Biden convened his second COVID-19 summit, aimed at injecting new urgency into the global coronavirus response. At the summit, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who was representing the United States in the opening session with world leaders, used the gathering to mark the coming milestone.
Biden will also issue a proclamation Thursday ordering flags at the White House and all federal buildings to be flown at half-staff until Monday to mark the 1 million deaths.
China fights economic slump, sticks to costly ‘zero COVID’
China’s leaders are struggling to reverse an economic slump without giving up anti-virus tactics that shut down Shanghai and other cities, adding to challenges for President Xi Jinping as he tries to extend his time in power.
The ruling Communist Party has declared its “zero-COVID” goal of preventing all infections takes priority over the economy. It is a decision with global implications and comes despite warnings by experts including the head of the World Health Organization that the goal might be unattainable.
“We don’t think it is sustainable,” the WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Tuesday.
China kept infection numbers low until early this year with a strategy that shut down cities, but entailed soaring costs. Beijing has switched to “dynamic clearing” that seals buildings or neighborhoods if infections are found. But with thousands of new cases of the highly infectious omicron variant reported every day, that keeps most of Shanghai’s 25 million people at home. Big parts of Beijing and other cities with tens of millions of people also are closed.
That is disrupting manufacturing and hampering the global flow of goods from smartphones to iron ore, increasing inflation risks in the United States and Europe. Consumer spending is weak, chilling Chinese demand for imports.
COVID-19 falling everywhere, except Americas and Africa
The number of new coronavirus cases reported worldwide has continued to fall except in the Americas and Africa, the World Health Organization said in its latest assessment of the pandemic.
The decline comes as Europe marked a COVID-19 death milestone: 2 million on the continent.
In its weekly pandemic report released late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said about 3.5 million new cases and more than 25,000 deaths were reported globally, which respectively represent decreases of 12% and 25%.
The downward trend in reported infections began in March, although many countries have dismantled their widespread testing and surveillance programs, making an accurate count of cases extremely difficult.
WHO said there were only two regions where reported COVID-19 infections increased: the Americas, by 14%, and Africa, by 12%. Cases remained stable in the Western Pacific and fell everywhere else, the agency said.
North Korea confirms 1st COVID outbreak, Kim orders lockdown
North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown Thursday to control its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak after holding for more than two years to a widely doubted claim of a perfect record keeping out the virus that has spread to nearly every place in the world.
The outbreak forced leader Kim Jong Un to wear a mask in public, likely for the first time since the start of the pandemic, but the scale of transmissions inside North Korea wasn’t immediately known. A failure to slow infections could have serious consequences because the country has a poor health care system and its 26 million people are believed to be mostly unvaccinated. Some experts say North Korea, by its rare admission of an outbreak, may be seeking outside aid.
However, hours after North Korea confirmed the outbreak, South Korea’s military said it detected the North had fired three suspected ballistic missiles toward the sea. It was its 16th round of missile launches this year, in brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiate sanctions relief and other concessions from a position of strength.
The official Korean Central News Agency said tests of virus samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fevers in the capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant.
In response, Kim called at a ruling party Politburo meeting for a thorough lockdown of cities and counties and said workplaces should be isolated by units to block the virus from spreading.
Most Read Local Stories
- Toxic legacy of Duwamish River could cost Boeing, taxpayers $1 billion
- Decades of research burned in this Oregon forest. Now it could hold clues to wildfire mysteries
- Get ready for rain: A 'parade' of wet weather is about to hit Western WA
- State Patrol seeks truck that lost tire from trailer, killing 2 on I-5
- Trawlers accidentally caught 10 orcas off Alaska this year — only one lived