Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, May 22, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday addressed ongoing confusion on local mask requirements, clarifying that local jurisdictions have the authority to continue mask mandates, as King County confirmed it would do on Thursday. But officials throughout the state cannot stop businesses from requiring customers to wear face coverings.
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 previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here, to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.
Coronavirus infections drop below 30,000 daily in continuing sign of recovery
For the first time in 11 months, the daily average of new coronavirus infections in the United States has fallen below 30,000 amid continuing signs that most communities across the nation are emerging from the worst of the pandemic.
The seven-day average dipped to 27,815 on Friday, the lowest since June 22 and less than a tenth of the infection rate during the winter surge, according to state health department data compiled by The Washington Post.
The pandemic map remains speckled with hot spots, including parts of the Deep South, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. At the local level, progress against the contagion has not been uniform as some communities struggle with inequities in vaccine distribution and in the health impacts of the virus.
But the vast bulk of the American landscape has turned pale green, the color-code for “low or moderate” viral burden, in a Covid-19 Community Profile Report released this week by the Biden administration. The report showed 694 counties still have “high” levels of transmission, less than half as many as in mid-April.
The big question now is whether the virus will be thoroughly squelched through mounting vaccinations – or whether it will smolder in areas with low inoculation rates and potentially flare when colder weather returns, said David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which has been modeling the outbreak for more than a year.
Rubin said the answer will depend in large measure on the individual choices of tens of millions of Americans, especially whether they get inoculated.
Disabled people fear being left behind as U.K. culture venues reopen
Before the pandemic hit Britain last year, Michelle Hedley could only go to her local theaters in the north of England if they happened to be doing a captioned performance.
That happened five times a year — at best, said Hedley, who is deaf.
But during the pandemic, suddenly, she could watch musicals all day and night if she wanted, as shuttered theaters worldwide put shows online, often with subtitles. “I started watching anything and everything simply because I could!” Hedley, 49, said in an email interview. “Even subject matters that bored me!”
“I viewed more theater than I had done (it felt like) in a lifetime,” she added.
Now, Hedley fears this access is about to be lost.
On Monday, theaters, museums and cinemas started reopening across England, some for the first time since March 2020. Audiences have been so grateful to be back inside theaters, they have clapped following the announcements to turn cellphones off.
But for many disabled people, who make up 22% of England’s population and have diverse requirements — such as wheelchair access, audio description or for “relaxed” performances where audiences are allowed to make noise — this moment is causing more mixed reactions. Some fear being forgotten, and that struggling venues will concentrate on producing in-person shows and forgo online offerings, or cut their in-person services for disabled people.
There is little evidence of that so far, and some venues say they will continue to include disabled people, but the real effect of venues’ reduced budgets won’t become clear for months.
How the COVID pandemic has changed attitudes toward wealth
In the early days of the pandemic, Jason Norton was enjoying the comfortable life he had built for himself. A father of three, he manages about $220 million for clients around his community in Carrollton, Georgia, about an hour west of Atlanta.
But in the course of the past year, he saw employees struggle financially and emotionally, clients question what they were doing, and a close uncle die from COVID-19. His views on wealth began to shift.
“I used to think of wealth as financial independence to do what you want to do when you want to do,” said Norton, founder and CEO of Norton Financial, a financial advisory firm. “My perspective has shifted. Now I view wealth more as a tool.”
Norton is not alone in his evolving attitudes toward wealth. The pandemic has changed how Americans view wealth in far-reaching ways, according to two recent surveys.
Even for the wealthiest, the coronavirus crisis challenged the notion that money could buy anything. Sure, a few could charter a plane to take them to a private home in a secluded location. But who could go out to their favorite restaurant or even buy toilet paper during the worst of the pandemic?
“We thought we’d always be able to do the things we wanted, but you couldn’t because it was closed,” said Norton, 39. “We thought we could buy whatever we wanted, but you couldn’t because it wasn’t available.”
People still worry about taxes, and no one likes large, unexpected expenses, but health — particularly COVID-19-related — concerns have surged almost to the top of the list of worries, a survey of 400 investors found. The survey, entitled the “Why of Wealth,” was released Friday by the wealth management firm Boston Private in a follow-up to a 2018 survey.
About 60% of respondents said the pandemic had caused them to reevaluate their perception of wealth, but there is a huge generational disparity: 78% of millennials and 73% of Generation X respondents said the pandemic had changed how they planned to use their wealth in the future, but only 26% of baby boomers and the same percent of the silent generation said the same thing.
Pakistan’s private vaccine sales highlight rich-poor divide
The coronavirus was ripping through Pakistan, and Muhammad Nasir Chaudhry was worried. Long lines and tight supplies plagued the government’s free vaccine campaign. Newspapers were filled with reports of well-connected people jumping the line for a free dose.
Then Chaudhry, a 35-year-old government consultant, discovered he could pay to leapfrog the long lines himself. He registered to take two doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine for about $80 from a private hospital. That’s a lot of money in a country where the average worker makes about $110 per month, but Chaudhry was ready to make the commitment.
Critics have assailed such private sales in Pakistan and around the world, saying that they make inoculations available only to the wealthy. But in Pakistan, like elsewhere, tight supplies have stymied those efforts. The private hospitals are out of supplies, and Chaudhry still hasn’t been vaccinated.
“I am willing to pay double the price for the vaccine, but I don’t want to wait on and on,” Chaudhry said.
Access to the coronavirus vaccine has thrown a stark light on global inequality. The United States and other rich countries have bought up most of the world’s vaccine supplies to protect their own people, leaving millions of doses stockpiled and in some places unused. Less developed countries scramble over what’s left.
To speed up vaccinations, some countries have allowed doses to be sold privately. But those campaigns have been troubled by supply issues and by complaints that they simply reflect the global disparities.
“The Pakistani example is a microcosm of what has gone wrong with the global response — where wealth alone has primarily shaped who gets access,” Zain Rizvi, an expert on medicine access at Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, said in an email. “Ending the pandemic will require the global community to do much more than just that.”
Explaining HIPAA: No, it doesn’t ban questions about your vaccination status
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to relax safety measures for people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and the country begins to reopen, many employers, businesses, families and friend groups are finding themselves in the at-times uncomfortable position of having to ask about others’ vaccination statuses.
Some Americans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., are balking at such questions and are claiming that asking about or requiring proof of vaccination is a violation of the HIPAA federal privacy law.
“Vax records, along with ALL medical records are private due to HIPPA rights,” Greene recently tweeted, misspelling the law’s acronym.
In the caption of an Instagram post that was flagged for containing false information, another person wrote, “If anyone asks for your vax status, tell them they have no right to know.”
That’s a common misconception but is “simply untrue,” said Robert Gatter, a professor with the Center for Health Law Studies at St. Louis University School of Law. Citing HIPAA as a reason to not disclose vaccination status is often a “knee-jerk reaction” that “quickly gets turned into a statement that sounds like law,” Gatter said. People sometimes say, “‘But I have a right not to be asked that question,'” he continued, “and it’s just not the case.”
Here’s what he and other experts say you need to know about the law.
What are the costs of the lost pandemic year? They hit me hard when I finally visited my mother-in-law
For three decades, I knew my mother-in-law as a strong woman with very sharp edges. She was highly opinionated and blunt — sometimes excessively so. Her words could bruise if you let them.
She rarely paused to edit her thoughts.
If she didn’t like the service she was getting at a restaurant, she’d say so in a stage whisper that projected several tables over, which many times made me cringe in embarrassment.
She’d tell you right away if she thought you’d gained a few too many pounds. She let her disdain for stupidity be known. She once told my husband, her baby son, that he and his two older brothers were [insert expletive, plural] when she found out they’d made no plans to fete their father on Father’s Day.
She also was a voracious reader, deeply engaged with her community, deeply interested in the world, funny, whip smart, passionate, loyal and capable of great kindness.
Even though she lacked the natural softness of my own mother, after I lost my mother `17 years ago this week, she took to cuddling me and never let go. Already close, we grew far closer. We’d snuggle up on her bed — as she, my husband and I did, weeping and telling stories, on the night my father-in-law died two years ago — and settle in for long heart-to-hearts. She let me lecture her about her verbal jabs and — at least for a day or two after — she tried hard to keep her promises to tame them.
Now her sharp edges are physical. She is skin and bones. She is tiny. To hold her is to fear you might snap her. You can see and feel every bump in her spine.
I know this because three weeks ago, I wrapped my arms around her for the first time in well over a year — finally able to go see her without risking her life.
And when in doing so I found so much less of her, the cost of our lengthy enforced separation hit me hard.
This is just one small, personal story of loss. We all have them. My mother-in-law and I remain on this Earth. We are lucky.
The pandemic, of course, stole so much more from so many.
But it took away her wider world and her independence — and our chance to reunite again in real conversation.
These days, my mother-in-law speaks very little. She struggles to find words. She starts a thought and loses it. “I really think …,” she says before silence sets in. “I just remembered,” she offers, and then the delicate thread breaks.
Masks are off – which means men will start telling women to ‘Smile!’ again
The photographer at CVS told Quintana Carter to make a “neutral face.” Not smiling, not frowning, just expressionless. This was, after all, a photo for a new passport, just in case she decides to leave Boston on her first post-pandemic vacation.
Carter, a 29-year-old project manager at a cancer-research institute, posed as she was told. But once her image showed up on the screen, the photographer took one look and asked if she’d like to retake it. Carter politely obliged. Once more, she says, “I just kind of let my face sit there.”
Later that day, Carter took her new passport materials to the post office. “The woman who was looking to make sure I had everything saw my photo and laughed,” she says. Carter, a good sport, laughed along and explained what the photographer had instructed. “But she said, ‘This isn’t a neutral face! This looks like you actively want to murder somebody,’ ” Carter remembers. “‘This is going to get you extra screening at airports!’ “
Carter has been dealing with this kind of thing for most of her life. In photos as a kid, she could always be relied on to look miserable. As an adolescent, classmates she barely even knew thought she hated them. And as an adult, she’s been told countless times – by other riders on public transit, by passersby while she waits for an Uber – that she should smile or cheer up.
But her passport-photo misadventure was the first time in more than a year that Carter had had to think about the problem known (crassly and delightfully) as “resting bitch face.” Wearing a mask during the coronavirus pandemic, Carter says, meant her “apparently murderous” facial expression temporarily disappeared from her list of daily concerns.
Women like Carter have enjoyed a 14-month respite from the murmurs, raised eyebrows and directives to “Lighten up,” or “Gimme a smile!” – mostly from men. Now, though, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent announcement that fully vaccinated individuals can mostly ditch their masks, glowers and frowns are set to make their return to society – and so are the annoying-at-best, threatening-at-worst comments that people often feel entitled to make about them.
Navajo Nation Becomes Largest Tribe in U.S. After Pandemic Enrollment Surge
The Navajo Nation already had its own police academy, universities, bar association and court system, plus a new Washington office near the embassies of other sovereign nations. And during the coronavirus pandemic the Diné, as many prefer to call themselves, gained an important distinction: the most populous tribal nation in the United States.
A rush to secure federal hardship benefits increased the Navajo Nation’s official enrollment to 399,494 from 306,268 last year, according to the Navajo Office of Vital Records and Identification. That jump was enough for the Diné to eclipse the Cherokee Nation, which has an enrollment of about 392,000.
The tribe’s growth, which came while it was enduring some of the nation’s most harrowing virus outbreaks, could affect the disbursement of future federal aid as well as political representation in the Southwest. The Navajo Nation reservation, which is larger than West Virginia, spreads over about 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
“This is the brighter side to a really bad time in the pandemic when we watched so many people go,” said Traci Morris, executive director of Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy Institute.
Morris, a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, said that while several tribes saw their enrollment increase during the pandemic, the 30% spike in the Navajo Nation was particularly notable. The Cherokee Nation, which normally sees about 1,200 applications for enrollment each month, has seen an increase to about 1,400 a month since the middle of last year, said a spokeswoman for the tribe.
Over the past year, thousands of Diné scrambled to update their enrollment information or to enroll officially for the first time to receive payments the tribe was directly distributing from its share of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Those payments of up to about $1,350 per adult helped many Diné weather a protracted period of economic instability.
Alaska approves funding for hiring bonus program that could pay $1,200 to jobless Alaskans who find work
JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate unanimously agreed late Wednesday night to spend $10 million on a program that would offer unemployed Alaskans $1,200 if they find full-time work and $600 if they find part-time work.
"There's a lot of people out there, a lot of businesses struggling to get employees. With the money, maybe this is sort of a minor way we can get them some help," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, who proposed the program with the support of Republican Sens. Click Bishop of Fairbanks and Bert Stedman of Sitka.
Wielechowski thinks it has a chance.
The program found bipartisan agreement in the Senate, but it won't happen unless it survives the state budget process and Gov. Mike Dunleavy's veto pen. A spokesman for the governor said he will review it if it's in the final version of the budget.
Judge denies Oregon businesses seeking block on COVID restrictions
PORTLAND — A federal judge has determined that a group of businesses and political action committees that sought to block Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 restrictions haven't shown enough evidence to prompt such a move.
The group — which includes the Gresham restaurant Spud Monkey’s Bar and Grill, its owner Melissa Adams and political action committees Oregon Moms Union and Heart of Main Street — filed a temporary restraining order against Brown on May 5, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. The order protested the “unfair restrictions” they said the governor had put on businesses and public school children.
Such a filing indicates members of the group believe they are at risk of facing immediate damage from the restrictions.
Judge Karin Immergut declined to issue the restraining order, saying this week the group “failed to show sufficient facts and adequate legal support” to warrant a block on Brown’s restrictions.
Brown’s lawyers argued none of the plaintiffs could show they had suffered specific ramifications as a result of the governor’s orders.
Why ‘world’s pharmacy’ India is short on shots
NEW DELHI (AP) — Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the United Nations his country would make enough COVID-19 vaccines “to help all humanity." Now India is struggling to meet its own domestic needs for the shots amid a startling surge of infections.
As the world’s largest maker of vaccines, India always was expected to play a pivotal role in global efforts to immunize against COVID-19. But a mixture of overconfidence, poor planning and bad luck has prevented that from happening.
Here's a look at what went wrong:
CAUGHT OFF GUARD
Officials in India seemed to have been caught off guard by several things, including the speed at which vaccines were approved for use around the world. India like many other countries had been working under the assumption that vaccines wouldn't be ready for use until mid-2021.
Instead, they started being greenlit in some countries in December — upping the pressure to not only produce but deliver promised shots as soon as possible. India, which approved two vaccines in January, turned out to not be ready for the eventual demand either at home or abroad.
For COVID survivors, ending the pandemic isn't as simple as taking off the masks
About six months after having a near-death experience with COVID-19, back in the coronavirus's first wave, Michael Flor was recovering strongly, and was surrounded by family and friends. But he started feeling a tug of emptiness.
“I realized I just wanted to connect with other people who had had COVID,” Flor, of West Seattle, says.
“I couldn’t believe the reaction,” Flor, 71, says. “It all came pouring out — out of me and out of them. I think there’s millions of people out there who are still dealing with this, and they don’t necessarily have an outlet right now. There’s no closure.”
New vibe at White House: Hugs are in; masks are (mostly) out
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is springing back to life.
Thanks to growing availability of the coronavirus vaccine and a recent relaxation of federal guidance on masks and distancing, the Biden administration is embracing the look and feel of pre-pandemic days on Pennsylvania Avenue. More West Wing staffers are turning up there for work and more reporters will be doing so as well, as the White House spreads the message that a return to normal is possible with vaccinations.
"We’re back," White House press secretary Jen Psaki declared at Friday's daily briefing. “I can confirm we’re a warm and fuzzy crew and we like to hug around here.”
There are lingering concerns about safety and mixed messaging — the same contradictions and confusions that are popping up across a nation that is gingerly re-opening. But the images of a reopened, relaxed White House stand in striking contrast to the days when it was the site of several COVID-19 outbreaks last year, a sign of just how far the pandemic has begun to recede in the United States.
The changes within the White House over the past week were swift and sweeping. Hugs were in, masks were (mostly) out. There was no need to stand six feet apart. And no one seemed to enjoy the shift more than Biden, the most back-slapping and tactile of politicians.
Climbing guide says at least 100 virus cases on Everest
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — An expert climbing guide said Saturday that a coronavirus outbreak on Mount Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff, giving the first comprehensive estimate amid official Nepalese denials of a COVID-19 cluster on the world’s highest peak.
Lukas Furtenbach of Austria, who last week became the only prominent outfitter to halt his Everest expedition due to virus fears, said one of his foreign guides and six Nepali Sherpa guides have tested positive.
“I think with all the confirmed cases we know now — confirmed from (rescue) pilots, from insurance, from doctors, from expedition leaders — I have the positive tests so we can prove this,” Furtenbach told The Associated Press in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.
“We have at least 100 people minimum positive for COVID in base camp, and then the numbers might be something like 150 or 200,” he said.
He said it was obvious there were many cases at the Everest base camp because he could visibly see people were sick, and could hear people coughing in their tents.
A total of 408 foreign climbers were issued permits to climb Everest this season, aided by several hundred Sherpa guides and support staff who've been stationed at base camp since April.
Nepalese mountaineering officials have denied there are any active cases this season among climbers and support staff at all base camps for the country's Himalayan mountains. Mountaineering was closed last year due to the pandemic.
Thousands of military and veterans' COVID-19 vaccinations aren't in Washington state data, hindering pandemic response
Due to a bureaucratic lapse, as well as legal and technical challenges, thousands of shots from two significant federal health care providers — the Defense Department and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — have not been counted in official Washington state vaccination statistics.
That gap complicates the state's response to the pandemic, and is artificially lowering the vaccination rate. Public health officials use the rates to target under-vaccinated communities with campaigns to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
The statistics took on more significance this week, as King County’s top public health official “strongly urged” everyone to continue wearing masks in public areas indoors, until 70% or more of residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated. Other counties may adopt similar guidelines.
“We would very much like to have vaccination data info from the VA and Department of Defense, like all other vaccine providers in WA State are required to report,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, the King County health officer, said in an emailed statement, “so we can fully understand vaccine coverage rates and potential disparities across our communities.”
People with weakened immune systems may be left behind in COVID-19 vaccine euphoria
As more people shed their masks, confident that they are protected by COVID-19 vaccines, some folks are being left behind in the rush back to normal life. People with immune systems compromised by cancer treatment, organ transplants and drugs for chronic immune disorders, may not respond well to the shots.
That means they still need to take precautions. They’re also relying on the rest of us to get vaccinated in order to reach the elusive goal of herd immunity — which means vaccination levels are high enough to shield the most vulnerable from exposure and infection.
If you’re among the nearly 10 million people in the U.S. who might fall into this category, we’d love to hear from you. Please share a few details about how you’re coping, along with contact information if you’re willing to be included in a story.
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