Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Sunday, May 23, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

For the first time in almost a year, the average of daily coronavirus infections in the U.S. have fallen below 30,000, but hotspots remain, including areas in the Deep South, as well as the Pacific Northwest.

Meanwhile, unexpected pandemic side effects continue to emerge, from the Navajo Nation becoming the most populous tribe in the U.S. to some women wondering whether post-mask life will reintroduce the familiar scourge of entitled people (often men) demanding smiles.

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.

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U.S. COVID Cases and Deaths Drop to Lowest Levels in Nearly a Year

The United States is adding fewer than 30,000 COVID-19 cases a day for the first time since June, and deaths are as low as they’ve been since summer. Nearly everywhere, the outlook for the country is improving.

More than 61% of American adults have received at least one vaccine shot, and although the pace has slowed, the share is still growing by about 2 percentage points per week.

“I think by June, we’re probably going to be at 1 infection per 100,000 people per day, which is a very low level,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday on the CBS show “Face the Nation.”

The share of coronavirus tests coming back positive has fallen to below 3% for the first time since widespread testing began, and the number of hospitalized patients has fallen to its lowest point in 11 months, Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute noted this past week. For the first time since March 5, 2020, San Francisco General Hospital had no COVID patients — “a truly momentous day,” Vivek Jain, an infectious-disease physician at the hospital, said Thursday.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times
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U.S. Vaccination Story Varies Widely Across Regions

Almost half of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But the U.S. vaccination story varies widely across regions, with New England surging ahead of the national average and much of the South lagging far behind.

In five of the six New England states, more than 60% of residents are at least partly vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a different story in the South, where Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee have the country’s lowest rates of residents who have received at least one shot. The rates in those states are all below 40%, with Mississippi, at 33%, at the bottom of the list.

The White House and state governments, after relying on mass vaccination sites for months, are turning their focus to more-targeted, smaller-scale efforts to vaccinate underserved, harder-to-reach communities.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Viral video drew hundreds to California party; 150 arrested

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — A birthday party invitation that went viral on TikTok brought hundreds of people to a raucous celebration on a Southern California beach Saturday night, prompting police to declare an unlawful assembly and arrest about 150 people after they refused orders to disperse.

The massive gathering began with a now-deleted video posted on the popular social media app from a user named adrian.lopez517, who invited anyone to his birthday party by Huntington Beach’s fire pits Saturday night, the Orange County Register reported Sunday. The hashtag “AdriansKickBack” received more than 180 million views on TikTok.

One partygoer told a New York Times reporter: “It’s the first lit party since COVID.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

CDC ramps up surveillance of highly contagious variant from India

Federal Health officials are ramping up their surveillance of the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first identified in India as experts warn that under-vaccinated areas in the U.S. could become hot spots for the mutation.

While U.S. cases attributed to the B.1.617 variant currently sit below 1%, the growth rate remains unclear due to the small sample size. Meanwhile, one science group said the strain could be as much as 50% more transmissible than B.1.1.7, the variant that emerged from the U.K. That mutation was first seen in the U.S. in late December, and is now dominant nationally.

A just-released U.K. study found the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine was “highly effective” against a form of the B.1.617 variant two weeks after the second dose, affirming preliminary data from Phase 3 clinical trials. Still, the mutation has arrived in the U.S. at a time when anti-pandemic measures are loosening and around 60% of the population isn’t yet fully vaccinated.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg
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Berlin’s nightclubbers sip their drinks, await better times

BERLIN (AP) — Battered by the pandemic, Berlin’s legendary nightclubs are starting to reopen. Sort of.

Several of the German capital’s nightspots have managed a limited restart along with pubs and restaurants over the weekend.

Clubs are opening their outdoor spaces to guests only as beer gardens or for small concerts and performances, provided the party people present a negative COVID-19 test or a vaccination certificate. But the days of hammering beats, pumping basslines and expressively dressed patrons dancing until early morning are still shut down in one of the global hot spots of vibrant nightlife.

Pamela Schobess represents the interests of Berlin club, party and cultural event organizers as a member of the board of the Berliner Club Commission. “We are allowed to do gastronomy at the moment, so we can have beer gardens and things like that. We can also do small concerts, but everything seated, everything with distance, with mask and hygiene rules,” she said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID: What do California, Texas, New York and Florida have in common? Stunningly low infection rates

Perhaps no states represent the red-blue divide better than deeply Democratic California and New York and Republican-run Texas and Florida. And their approaches to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, from mask rules to shutdowns to online schools, have been quite different, with the Golden and Empire states more aggressive with public health mandates while the Sunshine and Lone Star states have been out front on reopening.

But there is one thing they now share: COVID-19 case rates have been falling in all four of the country’s largest states, particularly over the last month, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And experts say their similar fates can’t simply be explained by the success of vaccines.

“Certainly it shows that vaccinating people helps cut down on transmission, and that’s great,” said Catherine Troisi, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “But we haven’t vaccinated everybody, we haven’t gotten to herd immunity. It’s probably not the whole answer.”

The answer to what’s driving down infection rates in states that define the country’s stark divide is more than a quest for political bragging rights. It can help identify sound strategies for the next public health crisis.

Read the full story here.

—The Mercury News

Florida nursing homes: A real-time test for COVID vaccine immunity

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — When COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Florida in December, seniors in elder-care facilities were among the first to get the life-saving treatment.

The strategy has paid off: COVID-19 cases in residents of Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities fell 90% since January.

Now senior advocate organizations are closely watching the new case numbers and hospitalizations. No one — even vaccine manufacturers — knows for certain how long immunity will last, particularly in the elderly. Pfizer and Moderna CEOs have said it’s likely there will be a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months.

“It’s a critical juncture,” said Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care, a nonprofit watchdog organization for long-term care facilities.

Read the full story here.

—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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Pandemic has fueled eating disorder surge in teens, adults

Many hospital beds are full. Waiting lists for outpatient treatment are bulging. And teens and adults seeking help for eating disorders are often finding it takes months to get an appointment.

The pandemic created treacherous conditions for eating disorders, leading to a surge of new cases and relapses that is not abating as restrictions are loosened and COVID-19 cases subside in many places, doctors and other specialists say.

“We are absolutely seeing massive increases,’’ said Jennifer Wildes, an associate psychiatry professor and director of an outpatient eating disorders program at the University of Chicago Medicine. Some patients are waiting four to five months to get treatment such as psychotherapy and sometimes medication. Waits usually lasted only a few weeks pre-pandemic, Wildes said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Germany suspends most travel from Britain amid concerns of variant’s spread

Germany is banning most travel from Britain starting Sunday amid concerns about the spread of a coronavirus variant first discovered in India, German authorities said Friday.

German citizens and residents of Germany will still be allowed to enter the country from Britain but will be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, Germany’s public health institution said as it classified Britain as an area of concern because of the variant.

The move came just days after Britain reopened its museums and cinemas and resumed allowing indoor service in pubs and restaurants. Many people in Britain have been looking forward to traveling abroad in the coming months, and Spain is set to welcome visitors arriving from Britain without a coronavirus test starting Monday.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

CDC is investigating heart problem in a few young vaccine recipients

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into reports that a very small number of teenagers and young adults vaccinated against the coronavirus may have experienced heart problems, according to the agency’s vaccine safety group.

The group’s statement was sparse in details, saying only that there were “relatively few” cases and that they may be entirely unrelated to vaccination. The condition, called myocarditis, is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can occur following certain infections.

The CDC’s review of the reports is in the early stages, and the agency has yet to determine whether there is any evidence that the vaccines caused the heart condition. It has posted some guidance on its website for doctors and clinicians to be alert to unusual heart symptoms among young people who have just received their shots.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times
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COVID testing’s value shrinks as vaccines beat back virus

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal health officials’ new, more relaxed recommendations on masks have all but eclipsed another major change in guidance from the government: Fully vaccinated Americans can largely skip getting tested for the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that most people who have received the full course of shots and have no COVID-19 symptoms don’t need to be screened for the virus, even if exposed to someone infected.

The change represents a new phase in the epidemic after nearly a year in which testing was the primary weapon against the virus. Vaccines are now central to the response and have driven down hospitalizations and deaths dramatically.

Experts say the CDC guidance reflects a new reality in which nearly half of Americans have received at least one shot and close to 40% are fully vaccinated.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

The COVID pandemic split the King County homeless system in two. A year later, the differences remain stark

There’s little to suggest that homelessness in the Seattle area has shrunk after a year of pandemic.

Which is why, at first glance, the numbers from King County’s homelessness system during COVID-19 may seem baffling. Nearly 23% fewer households accessed services like overnight shelter and drop-in day centers in 2020 than the year before, according to King County data.

The county hypothesizes that some people just aren’t asking for those services. Stimulus checks, increased rental assistance and an eviction moratorium have propped up those on the edge of stability. Others who are homeless may have pulled away from accessing services for fear of contracting COVID-19 through them.

But it’s also likely that the pandemic has introduced new disparities into an already fragmented system. Many people living homeless in King County have split into two camps: one where resources are now relatively rich, and one pulling people even further into the margins of society.

Read the full story here.

—Sydney Brownstone

UK officials: Vaccines effective against Indian variant

LONDON (AP) — British health officials expressed optimism Sunday that the coronavirus restrictions remaining in England can be lifted in June after an official study found that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer effective protection against the variant first identified in India.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, said officials in England are on track to proceed with the final stage of unlocking the country from June 21 if the public remains cautious.

“It’s looking good if people are continuing to observe all of the safety signals,” she told the BBC. However, she warned that the Indian variant is starting to become the dominant strain in parts of northwestern England, and people there need to be vigilant.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Drone companies are preparing to deliver COVID vaccines in rural U.S.

While more than one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there are still millions of people who have yet to receive a single dose.

Reasons for not getting a shot vary — some don’t want one at all, while others say they’ll wait a bit longer to decide. And then, there are people who want to get vaccinated but are in too remote of an area to get to a typical vaccination site.

They include people working on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or living in rural areas miles from the nearest doctor’s office or pharmacy. Drone companies are positioning themselves to deliver refrigerated medical products to those people. If the plans don’t pan out in time to combat the coronavirus crisis, then they hope to be set up to assist swiftly in the world’s next big health scare.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Our pandemic summer and fall could be almost normal, scientists say; here’s what needs to happen

Some fully vaccinated Washingtonians are ditching their masks, cases are falling and restaurants this summer could be packed.

In some Washington state ZIP codes, adult vaccination rates for at least one shot have risen well above 80%.

Summer could feel comfortable — perhaps almost normal — but the pandemic isn’t over.

Most scientists say reaching herd immunity — in which the virus can’t readily be transmitted because so many people are protected — is unlikely. 

Instead, many think the virus will become endemic: permanent, with occasional flare-ups. Read the full story here.

—Evan Bush