Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, May 29, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and travel numbers have hit near-record numbers as Americans hit the road — fueled by a desire to break free from coronavirus confinement, an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations and an improving economy. 

The COVID-19 news across the rest of the globe is variable. Europe is seeing a sharp decline in new infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Meanwhile, the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou recently shut down a neighborhood after a sudden rise in cases.

With a new poll suggesting the United States could be on track to vaccinate at least 70% of the adult population by this summer, President Joe Biden is refocusing his efforts on demanding an answer to a key question about the pandemic: How did it begin?

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 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.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Duchess of Cambridge ‘hugely grateful’ for 1st vaccine dose

LONDON — The Duchess of Cambridge has received her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as Britain extends its inoculation program to younger people.

Kate, the 39-year-old wife of Prince William, received her shot at London’s Science Museum, a mass vaccination center near the couple’s home at Kensington Palace, according to a photo posted on their Twitter feed. She got vaccinated a few weeks after her husband.

“I’m hugely grateful to everyone who is playing a part in the rollout — thank you for everything you are doing,” the duchess said in a tweet posted Saturday.

Britain this week extended its COVID-19 vaccination program to everyone over the age of 30. The program has been gradually expanded to progressively younger age groups since it began in early December, and more than 70% of adults have already received at least one dose.

Other members of the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, have publicized their vaccine appointments to encourage people to get shots.

—Associated Press
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Walla Walla County elementary school will end in-person learning for rest of school year, citing coronavirus outbreak

The Waitsburg School District announced Friday, May 28, that in-person learning at Waitsburg Elementary School has been suspended for the remainder of the school year.

According to an email from the district, the closure was called for because of a “drastic increase” in COVID-19 cases in staff and students in Waitsburg’s elementary levels.

The cases resulted in “multiple exposures and close contacts,” district representatives wrote.

Remote learning will be used for all students in preschool through fifth grade starting Tuesday, June 1, after the long holiday weekend.

According to the district’s website, the entire second-grade class had to quarantine on May 25 because of two students with positive cases.

Read the full story here.

—Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

State Fair Park vaccine center marks transition from federal to local management

Motorists wait in their vehicles as they wait their turn to be inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine at the Pilot Community Vaccination Center in the State Fair Park’s parking lot in Yakima, Wash.  (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)
Motorists wait in their vehicles as they wait their turn to be inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine at the Pilot Community Vaccination Center in the State Fair Park’s parking lot in Yakima, Wash. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

The mass COVID vaccination center at State Fair Park, which opened March 31 as a joint local, state and federal operation, transitioned to Yakima County control on Tuesday with a ceremony thanking the organizations and people who worked there.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Defense Department and U.S. Public Health Services “announced the completion of their lifesaving mission” at the event, according to a Yakima Health District news release.

“This partnership demonstrates what can happen when all levels of government work together to defeat a deadly pandemic,” FEMA Region 10 Acting Administrator Vince J. Maykovich said. “By providing tens of thousands of shots, we are helping to safely reopen our schools and businesses.”

Read the full story here.

—Yakima Herald-Republic

More states ease lingering virus rules as vaccine rates rise

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, more U.S. cities and states are shrugging off lingering COVID-19 restrictions as vaccination rates rise and the number of infections falls.

Massachusetts lifted a mask requirement Saturday, a day after New Jersey dropped its mandate. In New York City and Chicago, officials reopened public beaches, though winds and cool temperatures kept crowds away.

“Welcome back, Chicago,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a video announcement. “The lakefront is open.”

Chicago’s Navy Pier also reopened retail stores and restaurants, carnival rides, and tour boats and cruises after the pandemic forced monthslong closures at the busy tourist destination.

It’s one more sign of progress that reflects increasingly positive health data. On Saturday, Illinois’ Department of Public Health reported 802 new confirmed and probable infections, the second-lowest one-day total in the last six months.

For businesses nationwide, the improving outlook and long holiday weekend offered a chance to welcome customers back to in-person shopping.

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press
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State health officials confirm 1,066 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health reported 1,066 new coronavirus cases on Friday.

The update brings the state's totals to 435,849 cases and 5,765 deaths, meaning that 1.3% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, though the state does not report new death data on weekends. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Friday.

In addition, 24,131 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 56 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 109,529 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,577 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 6,908,004 doses and 41.98% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. (DOH will not update the data dashboard on May 31, due to the Memorial Day holiday.)

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.

—Paige Cornwell

Wealthy & Middle Class Latin Americans Head to U.S. for COVID Shots

Frustrated with the lagging pace of vaccine campaigns at home and seeing a surplus of doses in the United States — where tens of millions of Americans have opted not to get inoculated — wealthy and middle-class Latin Americans with American tourist visas have been flocking to the United States in recent weeks to score a COVID-19 shot.

The access has proved a bonanza for the privileged in countries where the virus continues to take a brutal toll — even if many, including those who are benefiting, struggle with the fact that vaccine tourism exacerbates the inequality that has worsened the pandemic’s toll...

As success stories of Latin Americans getting their jabs are shared on social media posts and by word-of-mouth, and local officials in New York and Alaska actively encourage vaccination tourism, the cost of airfare on several routes has skyrocketed as thousands make plans to head north.

Travel agencies in the region have begun selling vaccination packages, including multicountry itineraries for Brazilians, who must spend two weeks in a third country before being allowed to enter the United States.

Read the rest of the story here.

—New York Times

In South Korea’s ‘healing forest,’ the pandemic-stressed compete for the ultimate chill

Twenty-eight pandemic-battered competitors gathered under the leafy canopy [of a “healing forest” on the southern island of Jeju] Wednesday for the Space Out Competition. The premise is simply: zone out for 90 minutes, with the winner having the lowest and most stable heart rate. Spectators also cast votes for the top three who displayed the best Zen. (A Jeju-based hair stylist, who barely moved during the 90 minutes, won.)

South Korean artist Woopsyang created Space Out in 2014 as a pushback against South Korea’s fast-paced and high-pressure society. It has since spread to other places such as Hong Kong and the Netherlands.

“The pandemic-hit world needs Space Out more than ever,” said Woopsyang, who goes by one name. “We have a lot of downtime at our homes but we spend that time stressing over the virus and feeling anxious.”

Read the rest of the story here.

—Washington Post
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Dancing like there’s no COVID-19: Paris hosts test concert

Thousands of people, masked and tested for the coronavirus, packed inside a Paris arena for a concert Saturday as part of a public health experiment to prepare France to host big events again.

The show at AccorHotels Arena in eastern Paris features 1980s French rock band Indochine and DJ Etienne de Crecy. But the attention was mostly on the concert-goers.

The Paris public hospital authority helped organize the event to determine whether it’s safe to allow 5,000 masked people to dance together in the open pit of an indoor concert arena without social distancing.

The attendees are seeing the show for free but were required to take three virus tests, two before and one after the concert. To further reduce risk, organizers only allowed people 18-45 years old without underlying health conditions to participate, according to the hospital authority.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press

Vietnam finds new virus variant, hybrid of India, UK strains

Vietnam has discovered a new coronavirus variant that’s a hybrid of strains first found in India and the U.K., the Vietnamese health minister said Saturday.

Nguyen Thanh Long said scientists examined the genetic makeup of the virus that had infected some recent patients, and found the new version of the virus. He said lab tests suggested it might spread more easily than other versions of the virus.

Viruses often develop small genetic changes as they reproduce, and new variants of the coronavirus have been seen almost since it was first detected in China in late 2019. The World Health Organization has listed four global “variants of concern” – the two first found in the U.K. and India, plus ones identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Long says the new variant could be responsible for a recent surge in Vietnam, which has spread to 30 of the country’s 63 municipalities and provinces.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press

Lebanon ramps up COVID-19 fight with vaccination marathon

Lebanon’s health authorities Saturday launched a COVID-19 vaccination “marathon” to speed up inoculations around the country, including areas where turnout has so far been low.

The daylong campaign offered AstraZeneca vaccines at 30 different centers around the country without prior appointment to encourage people over age 30 to show up. The capital Beirut was not included in the campaign.

A vaccination program that started in February targeted older age groups, primarily through registration on a government-operated platform and appointments.

As of Saturday afternoon, 7,700 people had been vaccinated in the push.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press
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Genealogy has been a hot pandemic activity. Here’s how you can get started.

For many stricken by pandemic boredom, the past year has paved the way to the past as they begin to research their own family histories. Genealogy research has boomed over the past year, according to Washington State Archivist Steve Excell.

Genealogy research as a hobby has been growing in popularity since DNA tests like 23andMe have become more accessible. But according to Excell, searches to the state digital archives have increased 23% between March 2020 and March 2021. And more records have been retrieved through the state website.

Archival staff have been busy trying to keep up with pulling nondigital records.

This January, “scribes” — at-home volunteers who digitally transcribe records — broke the record for the number of birth, marriage and divorce certificates and other documents transcribed in a single month. The program has been in place for 10 years, but volunteers set the mark for second-most transcriptions in February, and again in March.

“People have discovered if you’ve got cabin fever and you’re stuck at home, this is a hobby you can do from home,” said Excell.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Amanda Zhou

Virus fails to deter hundreds of climbers on Mount Everest

A year after Mount Everest was closed to climbers as the pandemic swept across the globe, hundreds are making the final push to the summit with only a few more days left in the season, saying they are undeterred by a coronavirus outbreak in base camp.

Three expedition teams to Everest canceled their climb this month following reports of people getting sick. But the remaining 41 teams decided to continue with hundreds of climbers and their guides scaling the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) top in the season that ends in May, before bad weather sets in...

Nepalese officials have downplayed reports of coronavirus cases on Mount Everest, apparently out of concern of creating chaos and confusion in the base camp. After a gap year of no income from climbers, Nepal has been eager to cash in on this year’s season.

The climbing season was accompanied by a devastating surge in coronavirus cases in Nepal, with record numbers of daily infections and deaths. On Friday, Nepal reported 6,951 new confirmed cases and 96 deaths, bringing the nation’s totals since the pandemic began to more than 549,111 infections and 7,047 deaths.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press

Big cruise ships aren’t coming to Southcentral Alaska this year

President Joe Biden this week signed a bill allowing cruise ship travel to Alaska. Alaska leaders called the bill’s passage a huge victory for the state’s tourism industry after it was crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the ships won’t come to Southcentral Alaska. Instead, they’ll stick to Juneau and other Southeast communities.

Tourism-dependent companies along the state’s road system say they’ll notice the drop in business without those travelers.

But many of those same companies still sound confident — they’re seeing a dramatic surge in bookings by independent travelers arriving by air, unaffiliated with a cruise line and its package tours.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Anchorage Daily News
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In time for summer, Europe sees dramatic fall in virus cases

Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are plummeting across Europe, after Europe led the world in new cases last fall and winter in waves that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, forced more rolling lockdowns and overwhelmed intensive care units.

Now, vaccination rates are accelerating across Europe, and with them, the promise of summer vacations on Ibiza, Crete or Corsica. There are hopes for a rebirth of a tourism industry that in Spain and Italy alone accounts for 13% of gross domestic product but was wiped out by the pandemic...

Europe saw the largest decline in new COVID-19 infections and deaths this week compared with any other region, while also reporting about 44% of adults had received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the World Health Organization and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press