Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, May 2, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

As public masking mandates end, experts say it’s important to make long-term changes to prevent future outbreaks.

Take the Skagit Valley Chorale, for example. In March 2020, two people died and more than 50 in the group were infected after experiencing one of the country’s first superspreader events at choir practice. Now the choir group filters indoor air and monitors the concentration of breath inside the room.

New variants and subvariants continue to develop apace. The newest is omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1, which is estimated to be about 25 percent more transmissible than the current dominant omicron variant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The share of deaths among vaccinated people is rising, as protection from the vaccine declines and immunocompromised and elderly people come into contact with new, contagious strains of the disease.

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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Denmark to destroy excess soon-to-expire COVID-19 vaccines

Danish health officials said Monday that 1.1 million excess COVID-19 vaccines will be discarded in the coming weeks because their expiration date is near, and efforts to donate them to developing countries have failed.

Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of COVID-19 in Denmark, said the epidemic in the Scandinavian country “is currently under control, and the vaccine coverage in the Danish population is high.”

Around 81% of Denmark’s population of 5.8 million has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while nearly 62% have received a booster shot.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Clearing the air is key to battling COVID; King County offers free filters, but more aid is needed

Inside an airy, stained glass-adorned room at Salem Lutheran Church, the Skagit Valley Chorale is surrounded by reminders of deep heartbreak.

Four doorways are propped open, two to the cool, outdoor air. A pair of homemade air cleaners, fashioned from furnace filters, a box fan and duct tape, hum away at the center of the room. A laptop streams video via Zoom. Two small monitors gauge the concentration of carbon dioxide — and alert the choir when too much of their own breath accumulates.

These are some of the safety measures the Chorale now takes after the coronavirus visited them in March 2020, when a seemingly ordinary choir practice became one of the country’s first superspreader events.

More than 50 members were infected, at least a handful hospitalized. Two died.

“We were burned,” member Leigh Giovane said Tuesday evening, before weekly rehearsal had started. The Chorale only recently returned to indoor activities. “Because we had such a devastating experience, we felt we had to be as careful as we could with the lives of our members.”

The group’s experience ventilating and filtering indoor air illustrates a new stage of the COVID-19 pandemic that Washington, along with much of the United States, is moving toward after the omicron variant infected vast swaths of the population.

Read the story here.

—Elise Takahama

Sen. Rand Paul wants to investigate origins of COVID-19

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul promised Saturday to wage a vigorous review into the origins of the coronavirus if Republicans retake the Senate and he lands a committee chairmanship.

Speaking to supporters at a campaign rally, the libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican denounced what he sees as government overreach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He applauded a recent judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs.

“Last week I was on an airplane for the first time in two years and didn’t have to wear a mask,” he said, drawing cheers from the partisan crowd. “And you know what I saw in the airport? I saw at least 97% of the other free individuals not wearing masks.”

Paul has clashed repeatedly with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, over the government’s COVID-19 policies and the origins of the virus that caused the global pandemic.

Paul, who is seeking a third term this year in Kentucky, said he’s in line to assume a committee chairmanship if the GOP wins Senate control after the November election. The Senate currently has a 50-50 split, but Democrats have the slim edge because Vice President Kamala Harris is a tie-breaking vote.

Read the story here.

—Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press

Harris negative for COVID-19 after taking antiviral pill

Vice President Kamala Harris tested negative on Monday for COVID-19, six days after she tested positive for the virus, and has been cleared to return to the White House on Tuesday.

Harris press secretary Kirsten Allen said Harris, who was prescribed the antiviral treatment Paxlovid last week, was negative on a rapid antigen test. Allen said Harris would continue to wear a “well-fitting mask while around others” in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines until through her tenth day after her positive test.

CDC guidance allows people to leave isolation on the sixth day after they tested positive, as long as they wear a mask around others. The White House exceeds those guidelines, requiring a negative rapid test before people who have been infected are allowed to return to the complex.

—The Associated Press
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Tourists, rejoice! Italy, Greece relax COVID-19 restrictions

For travelers heading to Europe, summer vacations just got a whole lot easier.

Italy and Greece relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday before Europe’s peak summer tourist season, in a sign that life was increasingly returning to normal.

Greece’s civil aviation authority announced that it was lifting all COVID-19 rules for international and domestic flights except for the wearing of face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers were required to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from the disease.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

En plein air: NYC aims to keep outdoor lifestyle post-virus

As COVID-19 ravaged New York City, virus-wary denizens locked out of indoor public places poured into the streets, sidewalks and parks. They dined with friends in outdoor sheds hastily erected by restaurants, and went to health classes, concerts and even therapy sessions on streets closed to traffic.

Now as the city continues on its path of recovery, the pandemic could be leaving a lasting imprint on how the city uses its roadways: More space for people and less room for cars.

Even though indoor dining has resumed in the city — no masks or vaccine cards required — outdoor dining decks, set up in former parking lanes, have never been more plentiful.

Meanwhile, the city is expanding its Open Streets program, which closes roadways to vehicles and opens them to pedestrians.

The expansion of the program — originally conceived as a way to give New Yorkers more space to exercise — is partly intended to increase foot traffic along struggling business corridors and give lower-income neighborhoods similar opportunities as higher-profile and wealthier enclaves.

Read the story here.

—Bobby Caina Calvan, The Associated Press

What happens if I get COVID-19 while traveling?

What happens if I get COVID-19 while traveling?

Depending on your destination, it could result in an unexpected change in plans, such as being required to stay isolated in a hotel.

It’s why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you have backup plans ready if you’re traveling abroad. You might have to stay longer than planned if you test positive.

In some places, you won’t be able to board flights until you test negative. In others, you might also be required to stay in a quarantine facility.

Since results from a PCR test can remain positive for weeks after an infection, those who have had COVID-19 might have to get documentation from a doctor or health authorities saying they’ve recovered. Some travel only requires an antigen test.

If you end up needing medical treatment, check with your embassy for suggested health care providers. Keep in mind that some countries still have overwhelmed health care systems due to the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Victoria Milko, The Associated Press
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Beijing shuts dine-in services for holidays to stem outbreak

Restaurants in Beijing have been ordered to close dine-in services over the May holidays as the Chinese capital grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak.

Authorities said at a news conference Saturday that dining in restaurants has become an infection risk, citing virus transmissions between diners and staff.

Restaurants have been ordered to only provide takeout services from Sunday to Wednesday, during China’s Labor Day holidays.

Beijing began mass testing millions of residents earlier this week as it scrambled to stamp out a growing COVID-19 outbreak.

The political stakes are high as the ruling Communist Party prepares for a major congress this fall at which President Xi Jinping is seeking a third five-year term to reassert his position as China’s unquestioned leader.

Beijing authorities reported 67 new infections on Saturday, taking the city’s total to nearly 300 since April 22.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

South Africa’s latest surge is a possible preview of pandemic’s next chapter

Coronavirus cases are surging again in South Africa, and public health experts are monitoring the situation, eager to know what is driving the spike, what it says about immunity from previous infections and what its implications are globally.

South Africa experienced a decline in cases after hitting an omicron-fueled, pandemic peak in December. But in the past week, cases have tripled, positivity rates are up and hospitalizations have also increased, health officials said. The surge has the country facing a possible fifth wave.

The spike is linked to BA.4 and BA.5, two subvariants that are part of the omicron family.

Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, said BA.4 and BA.5 demonstrate how the virus is evolving differently as global immunity increases.

“What we are seeing now, or at least maybe the first signs, is not completely new variants emerging, but current variants are starting to create lineages of themselves,” de Oliveira said.

Read the story here.

—Alexandra E. Petri, The New York Times

California coronavirus cases rising. Is a new wave coming?

After months of declining numbers, California has recorded a nearly 30% increase in coronavirus cases over the last week along with smaller rises in hospitalizations, causing some health officials to suspect that the state is headed into a new pandemic wave.

The increase coincides with a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions such as mask mandates and vaccine verification rules as well as the rise of new subvariants of the highly transmissible omicron strain. The question now is how much higher cases will go and whether new government intervention will be needed.

“We’re expecting a small surge that may mirror something that we saw in delta last summer, in early July, but it’s happening now, in May,” Dr. Curtis Chan, deputy health officer for San Mateo County, said in an interview.

Chan expects a rise in both hospitalizations and deaths but doesn’t believe a new surge would be as bad as last winter’s omicron wave.

“The virus is definitely flowing,” Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s health officer, said in an interview. “People need to know the likelihood of an exposure in the community is increasing.”

Read the story here.

—Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times
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New Zealand welcomes back tourists as pandemic rules eased

New Zealand welcomed tourists from the U.S., Canada, Britain, Japan and more than 50 other countries for the first time in more than two years Monday after dropping most of its remaining pandemic border restrictions.

The country has long been renowned for its breathtaking scenery and adventure tourism offerings such as bungy jumping and skiing. Before the spread of COVID-19, more than 3 million tourists visited each year, accounting for 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5% of the overall economy.

But international tourism stopped altogether in early 2020 after New Zealand imposed some of the world’s toughest border restrictions.

The border rules remained in place as the government at first pursued an elimination strategy and then tried to tightly control the spread of the virus. The spread of omicron and vaccinations of more than 80% of New Zealand’s 5 million population prompted the gradual easing of restrictions.

New Zealand reopened to tourists from Australia three weeks ago and on Monday to about 60 visa-waiver countries, including much of Europe. Most tourists from India, China and other non-waiver countries are still not allowed to enter.

Read the story here.

—Nick Perry, The Associated Press

Some people with agoraphobia struggle as pandemic wanes

As people start to venture out, Ashley Perkins might be struggling more than most. For years she had been living life relatively large despite her agoraphobia, until pandemic constraints shrank her world to the drive between work and home. “This is by far worse than even before I was diagnosed in 2008,” the 38-year-old pharmacist said.

The anxiety disorder, which affects about 1% of U.S. adults and is more common in women, is frequently associated with a fear of leaving the home. But the core issue often is an underlying panic disorder that can first flare in a place seemingly routine, such as the grocery store, said Sally Winston, a clinical psychologist and executive director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland in Towson.

“Agoraphobia is the fear of having a panic attack in a place or situation in which you feel trapped or unable to get to safety,” Winston said. That first panic attack with its surge of adrenaline, rapid heartbeat and other symptoms can feel physically overwhelming, “like a traumatic catastrophe,” she said, and makes people retreat to a perceived safe space, often their home.

Agoraphobia can’t be diagnosed until someone has experienced at least six months of symptoms, severe enough to affect daily life. So, it’s too soon to know whether the ongoing pandemic has amplified rates of the anxiety disorder, mental health clinicians say. But some worry that months of limited exposure to the rigors of daily commutes, crowded malls and other activities might have seeded new cases, as well as worsened symptoms in those individuals already diagnosed.

Nine months into the pandemic, clinical psychologist Karen Cassiday started seeing patients who had been coping well with the disorder for a decade or longer. “They were saying, `I’m scared to drive. I’m scared to go into a big box store, or even go in a store where I can’t get out quickly. I’m afraid to go to the dentist or get my hair done,’ ” said Cassiday, who treats patients with anxiety disorders in the Chicago area.

“Or I had people calling and saying, ‘I just need to talk with you because I’m white knuckling my way through things that I could do before the pandemic.’ ” Also, she said: “People who never had agoraphobia were coming in, and they’ve got it.”

Read the story here.

—Charlotte Huff, The Washington Post