Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, May 5, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
The number of reported COVID-19 cases continued to fall last week across the globe, except in the Americas and Africa, according to the World Health Organization’s weekly pandemic report.
COVID-19 cases increased by about a third across Africa and 13% in the Americas, according to the health agency’s report.
Meanwhile, Washington and federal government websites are still offering free COVID-19 tests. Follow our guide to order at-home tests from Washington state or from the federal government.
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.
FDA sharply limits use of Johnson & Johnson shot due to rare blood clots
The Food and Drug Administration imposed new restrictions Thursday on the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, saying the risk of a rare and life-threatening blood clot syndrome outweighed the benefits of the vaccine for people who are 18 or older and can get another shot, unless they would otherwise remain unvaccinated.
The FDA said only people who are unable to receive other vaccines because they are not accessible or clinically appropriate, or because they refused to get one of the other vaccines, should receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been associated with a rare but potentially deadly blood clotting and bleeding syndrome called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). The condition usually occurs within one to two weeks of vaccination, and a commonly used treatment to treat clotting, heparin, can cause additional harm.
“This is not a new safety signal — it is based on updated information showing that it is a persistent safety signal,” Peter Marks, the FDA’s top vaccine official, said in an interview. He said there are other, safer vaccines that can be used to inoculate people against the coronavirus.
Pfizer profit soars in first quarter, revises 2022 forecast
COVID-19 vaccine and treatment sales helped Pfizer breeze past Wall Street’s first-quarter expectations, as the drugmaker’s profit grew 61%.
The coronavirus vaccine Comirnaty brought in more than $13 billion in sales in the quarter, and the company is still trying to expand the market for the preventive shots.
Pfizer leaders said Tuesday they expect to submit to regulators by early June data on the effectiveness of a smaller, three-shot combination of their vaccine in children under age 5. The pill treatment Paxlovid, which launched late last year, added another $1.5 billion in the first quarter.
All that helped company revenue swell 77%, compared to last year’s quarter, when vaccine sales were still ramping up.
Hong Kong reopens beaches, Beijing relaxes quarantine rules
Hong Kong reopened beaches and pools and relaxed other pandemic restrictions Thursday, a day after China’s capital, Beijing, announced it would ease its tough quarantine rules for arrivals from overseas.
The two Chinese cities are at opposite ends of COVID-19 outbreaks. Hong Kong is emerging from by far its deadliest wave, which killed 9,000 people. In Beijing, a new wave is just beginning and authorities have imposed a series of restrictions on residents to try to snuff it out.
The easing of quarantine requirements was a reminder that China does want eventually to back off from its strict “zero-COVID” approach that is imposing growing economic and human costs, though officials have shown no inclination to do so in a meaningful way anytime soon.
In Hong Kong, the rising costs have sparked a backlash against “zero COVID.” The city closed water sports venues during its outbreak of the highly transmissible omicron variant, but has been reducing restrictions as cases decline. Deaths from COVID-19 have fallen from a high of almost 300 per day in March to zero in recent days.
More Americans apply for jobless aid last week
More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week but the total number of people collecting jobless aid is at its lowest level in more than 50 years.
Jobless claims in the U.S. rose by 19,000 to 200,000 for the week ending April 30, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time applications generally reflect the number of layoffs.
The four-week average for claims, which softens some of the weekly volatility, rose 8,000 from the previous week to 188,000.
The total number of Americans collecting jobless benefits for the week ending April 23 fell by 19,000 from the previous week, to 1,384,000. That’s the fewest since January 17, 1970.
American workers are experiencing 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 this year, even as the overall economy contracted.
The era of cheap and plenty may be ending for many products
For the past three decades, companies and consumers benefited from cross-border connections that kept a steady supply of electronics, clothes, toys and other goods so abundant it helped prices stay low.
But as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine continue to weigh on trade and business ties, that period of plenty appears to be undergoing a partial reversal. Companies are rethinking where to source their products and stocking up on inventory, even if that means lower efficiency and higher costs. If it lasts, such a shift away from fine-tuned globalization could have important implications for inflation and the world’s economy.
Economists are debating whether recent supply chain turmoil and geopolitical conflicts will result in a reversal or reconfiguration of global production, in which factories that were sent offshore move back to the United States and other countries that pose less of a political risk.
If that happens, a decadeslong decline in the prices of many goods could come to an end or even begin to go in the other direction, potentially boosting overall inflation. Since around 1995, durable goods such as cars and equipment have tamped down inflation, and prices for nondurable goods like clothing and toys have often grown only slowly.
Those trends began to change in late 2020 after the onset of the pandemic, as shipping costs soared and shortages collided with strong demand to push car, furniture and equipment prices higher. While few economists expect the past year’s breakneck price increases to continue, the question is whether the trend toward at least slightly pricier goods will last.
The answer could hinge on whether a shift away from globalization takes hold.
COVID positivity rate jumps to 4-month high in South Africa
South Africa’s daily coronavirus test positivity rate rose to its highest level since Jan. 1 on Thursday as the continent’s most-industrialized nation heads into a fifth wave of infections.
There were 9,757 new COVID-19 cases identified, representing a 25.9% positivity rate of those tested, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement on its website.
The latest surge in infections comes as winter starts in the country forcing people indoors and possibly enabling the virus to spread faster. South Africa is still a long way off previous records. The largest daily count for new cases was 26,976, reached on Dec. 15.
Expedia results are in line as omicron weighs on pent-up demand
Expedia Group shares tumbled the most since March 2020 amid signs that rising inflation and a potential economic recession could damp travel demand after a resurgent summer travel season.
The stock fell as much as 17% on Tuesday, the most since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, making it the worst performer in the S&P 500. The company reported results Monday that were largely in line with analysts’ estimates and executives were optimistic about strong summer demand, initially sending shares higher. But fears of a recession is weighing on the stock, said Deutsche Bank analyst Lee Horowitz.
“In a world where’s there’s recessionary fears rising in the back-end of the year, there’s a lot of investors who are saying this is as good as it gets,” Horowitz said in an interview.
Expedia reported revenue of $2.25 billion in the first three months of the year, up 80% from a year earlier, according to a statement from the Seattle-based company. The company, which hosts reservations for traditional lodging like hotels and short-term rentals on its Vrbo platform, and provides access to pricing for airlines, hotels and car rental companies, reported gross bookings of $24.4 billion, up 58%.
“As we have seen many times during Covid, this quarter was a tale of two stories,” said Chief Executive Officer Peter Kern. “There was early impact from omicron left over from late last year, which faded as the turnaround in demand reached new highs since the start of Covid. While the war in Ukraine did slow some of the recovery in Europe, there too we see travel at new highs since the start of the pandemic.”
Travel executives are betting that this summer will be one of the busiest yet even with soaring inflation as consumers excited to leave home will splurge on vacations — potentially going further afield and venturing back into tourist hot spots.
Nearly 15 million deaths associated with COVID-19
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 15 million people were killed either by coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, more than double the official death toll of 6 million. Most of the fatalities were in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas.
In a report Thursday, the U.N. agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the figure as “sobering,” saying it should prompt countries to invest more in their capacities to quell future health emergencies.
Scientists tasked by WHO with calculating the actual number of COVID-19 deaths between January 2020 and the end of last year estimated there were between 13.3 million and 16.6 million deaths that were either caused directly by the coronavirus or were somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, like people with cancer unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
The figures are based on country-reported data and statistical modelling but only about half of countries provided information. WHO said it wasn’t yet able to break down the figures to distinguish between direct deaths from COVID-19 and others caused by the pandemic, but said a future project examining death certificates would probe this.
Please keep wearing masks on public transit, CDC urges
People should continue wearing masks on public transportation even though it’s no longer required by law, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
The federal government’s public transit mask mandate was scheduled to expire Tuesday, but a federal judge struck it down two weeks earlier instead.
“CDC continues to recommend that all people — passengers and workers, alike — properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator in indoor public transportation conveyances and transportation hubs to provide protection for themselves and other travelers in these high volume, mixed population settings,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a news release.
The Justice Department has appealed the anti-mask mandate ruling from Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump.
COVID-19 cases have continued to tick upward due to the omicron BA. 2 subvariant. On Tuesday, case rates were highest in previous bellwether locations such as New York and Washington state.
How to ask a seat mate to mask: The new etiquette for maskless flights
In the weeks since a federal judge in Florida struck down the federal mask mandate for planes and other transportation settings, Americans have met the change with a mix of excitement and concern. Some travelers welcomed the news, even cheering on planes when pilots announced the ruling. For others, the prospect of flying with unmasked seatmates has been a source of anxiety.
If you are nervous about flying on an aircraft full of bare faces, you can take steps to make the journey less daunting.
Travelers might consider doing a cost-benefit analysis on whether to fly for pleasure trips. “I think the public really does want to say to themselves, ‘OK, what am I willing to do and not do?'” Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University, said. “‘What’s worth it and not worth it?'”
If wearing a mask makes you feel safer, Plante said, you can wear a quality one, such as an N95 or KN95, regardless of what others choose to do.
Airline analyst Timothy O’Neil-Dunne also recommended keeping a fair distance from your fellow travelers where possible — though he noted that can be tough in crowded airports.
Passengers who find their anxiety ramping up can also practice diaphragmatic breathing and mindfulness techniques, Plante said. Distracting yourself by listening to soothing music, reading a book or picking up another activity can also be helpful. But plan those strategies ahead of time.
Asking someone seated near you to mask up requires a nuanced approach, and experts don’t recommend it in every scenario. If you’re going to ask someone, Plante said, you should “appeal to their goodness and say, ‘I hate to bother you with this, but I’m visiting my elderly relative and I’m really worried about the virus’ or ‘I’m immunocompromised. Would you be willing to mask up for this trip?'”
Seattle police, city officials met WA inspectors with suspicion during mask compliance investigations, reports say
A pair of investigations by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries into widespread refusal by Seattle police officers to comply with mask mandates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic were hampered by incidents of open suspicion and stubbornness by officers and their commanders, according to inspection reports.
Copies of the reports obtained by The Seattle Times, issued in January and July 2021, point to numerous instances when officers failed to wear protective masks or maintain social distancing, resulting in a sharply critical Office of Inspector General review issued last month.
The inspector general, one of three civilian watchdog agencies that monitors Seattle Police Department operations, concluded officers violated the law by failing to wear masks and observe social distancing — and that the department’s command staff failed to make them comply.
The state safety and health inspection reports cite instances when SPD officials “refused to answer questions” during inspections and barred compliance and safety officers from accessing SPD facilities — even after the inspections were approved by a lieutenant and inspectors showed their government identification.
The July report said police officials “claimed they had never heard” of the state Department of Labor and Industries or its occupational safety and health division.
The same report said credentialed inspectors were denied access to Seattle police’s West Precinct in April 2021 “due to concerns that [the precinct] housed Criminal Justice Information Systems.”ADVERTISINGSkip AdSkip AdSkip Ad
“Employer refused and/or was unable to answer questions regarding their masking, social distancing and meal time policies,” the report said. “They also would not provide information on how frequently the desks in the report writing area or gym were used,” and refused the inspectors’ request to interview officers during the inspection.
The vanishing variants: Lessons from gamma, iota and mu
In early 2021, scientists in Colombia discovered a worrisome new coronavirus variant. This variant, eventually known as mu, had several troubling mutations that experts believed could help it evade the immune system’s defenses.
Over the following months, mu spread swiftly in Colombia, fueling a new surge of COVID-19 cases. By the end of August, it had been detected in dozens of countries, and the World Health Organization had designated it a “variant of interest.”
“Mu was starting to make some noise globally,” said Joseph Fauver, a genomic epidemiologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and an author of a recent study on the variant.
And then it fizzled. Today, the variant has all but vanished.
US expands pandemic asylum limits while preparing to end them
The Biden administration has begun expelling Cubans and Nicaraguans to Mexico under pandemic-related powers to deny migrants a chance to seek asylum, expanding use of the rule even as it publicly says it has been trying to unwind it, officials said Wednesday.
The U.S. struck an agreement with Mexico to expel up to 100 Cubans and 20 Nicaraguans a day from three locations: San Diego; El Paso, Texas; and Rio Grande Valley, Texas, according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the effort.
The expulsions began April 27 and will end May 22, the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been made public. They are carried out under Title 42 authority, which was named for a public health law and used to expel migrants on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Title 42 is due to expire May 23.
The U.S. and Mexico agreed April 26 to very limited expulsions of Cubans and Nicaraguans, according to a high-level Mexican official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. It was prompted by higher numbers of migrants from those two countries coming to the U.S. border.
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