Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, May 6, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Though the state has begun its two-week reopening pause, Washington health officials are seeing “hopeful numbers” in COVID-19 cases and hospitalization data. However, they also say that does not negate the fact the state remains in a fourth wave of infection.
But experts are projecting COVID-19’s toll on the U.S. will fall sharply by the end of July. Even under scenarios involving disappointing vaccination rates, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are expected to drop dramatically this summer.
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.
Argentine clinics struggle despite COVID-19 crisis
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — As COVID-19 deaths climb to new peaks in Argentina, the intensive care unit at the San Andres clinic in the capital is oddly silent.
The beds are empty. The monitors for the respirators are still in their factory wrappings. Cabinets stand full of unused medicines and syringes. It’s been that way for weeks now, even as other hospitals fill to capacity.
While the pandemic has swelled the need for hospital beds, many private clinics say they’re struggling to survive. The pandemic has pushed away many non-COVID patients and the hospitals say they are losing money on coronavirus sufferers because the government insurance program doesn’t pay enough to meet costs.
It’s a problem that private hospitals have had in many parts of the world, including the United States, due to forced cancellation of more profitable elective treatments to focus on COVID-19 emergencies.
Baltimore vaccine plant’s troubles ripple across 3 continents
WASHINGTON — Quality-control problems at a Baltimore plant manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines have led health officials on three continents to pause the distribution of millions of Johnson & Johnson doses as the troubles of a politically connected U.S. contractor ripple across the world.
Doses made at the plant owned by Emergent BioSolutions have not been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States, and the Biden administration has repeatedly assured Americans that none of the Johnson & Johnson shots administered domestically were made there.
But millions of doses have been shipped abroad, including to Canada, the European Union and South Africa. Regulators in various countries are now working to ensure that those doses are safe after the disclosure in March that workers at the Baltimore plant accidentally contaminated a batch of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine with the harmless virus used to manufacture AstraZeneca’s. Both vaccines were produced at the same site. The mistake forced Emergent to throw out up to 15 million Johnson & Johnson doses after tests showed that the batch failed to meet purity requirements.
EU officials as well as those in Canada and South Africa said there was no evidence that any of the doses they had received were tainted. But the problems identified in Baltimore have slowed their vaccination efforts while they perform additional quality assessments as a precaution.
Japan set to extend virus emergency in Tokyo through May 31
TOKYO — Japan is set to expand and extend a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas through May 31 as the coronavirus continues spreading and uncertainty grows about safely holding the Olympics just 11 weeks away.
The current emergency in Tokyo and Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures in the west is scheduled to end Tuesday. Instead, officials are seeking an extension in those areas and to expand the virus-control measure to Aichi in central Japan and Fukuoka in the south.
Officials in charge of Japan’s COVID-19 response are seeking experts’ endorsement of the plan, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will announce the measures later Friday.
Tokyo logged 591 new cases of coronavirus infection Thursday, a slight dip from when the state of emergency began in the capital last month, but far above a target of 100 that some experts recommend.
Governor says Utah won’t mandate masks in schools next fall
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s governor said Thursday the state has no plans to require masks for students in K-12 schools next fall, following months of mounting pressure from parents calling for the mandate’s end.
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox has previously defended his administration’s decision to mandate masks in schools this school year against parent protests, but now says the state’s rising vaccination rates indicate that districts are prepared to limit restrictions.
“We now have the ability for those that have concerns about the virus to protect ourselves much more,” Cox told The Associated Press. “We have better masks available and opportunities for people to make those decisions.”
Dozens of districts nationwide have already dropped mask mandates and many more districts have indicated they are likely to not require them next fall. At least half of states still have statewide mask mandates in place, and many school districts still require masks. The school-tracking site Burbio found 62% of schools were offering in-person learning every day by late April.
Personal ties: Harris’ family in India grapples with COVID
WASHINGTON — G. Balachandran turned 80 this spring — a milestone of a birthday in India, where he lives. If not for the coronavirus pandemic, he would have been surrounded by family members who gathered to celebrate with him.
But with the virus ravaging his homeland, Balachandran had to settle for congratulatory phone calls. Including one from his rather famous niece: Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Unfortunately, because of the COVID, I cannot have such an elaborate function,” the retired academic said in a Zoom interview Thursday from his home in New Delhi.
Harris’ uncle says he spoke with the vice president and her husband, Doug Emhoff, for quite a while. To close out the conversation, Harris assured him she’d take care of his daughter — her cousin — who lives in Washington.
It was the last time they had a chance to speak. Since then, the coronavirus has raged out of control in India, overwhelming the nation’s health care system and killing hundreds of thousands of people.
While the crisis in India has created diplomatic and humanitarian challenges for the Biden administration, for Harris it is also personal: Her mother was born there, and she’s spoken emotionally throughout her political career about the influence of her many visits to India as a child.
Italy set to vaccinate small island populations in one go
Italy is set to start a mass vaccination campaign Friday on some of its small, remote islands with few residents and limited health care services, though one isle jumped the gun and got most of its adults inoculated on its own.
The office of Italy’s virus czar said the campaign would initially target the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily, and Isola Capraia off the Tuscan coast. The island plan aims to inoculate the whole adult population at once, rather than in stages according to age groups as is the policy on the mainland where many regions are still targeting people over age 70.
Tiny Procida this week declared itself the first COVID-free Italian island after it essentially carried out a mass vaccination campaign, giving at least one shot to more than 6,000 of its 7,000 adults.
Why patents on COVID vaccines are so contentious
The Biden administration’s call to lift patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help poor parts of the world get more doses has drawn praise from some countries and health advocates.
But it has run into resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and others, who say it won’t help curb the outbreak any time soon and will hurt innovation.
What do patents do and why do they matter?
Poll shows parents are reluctant to get their children vaccinated for COVID-19
The American public’s willingness to get a COVID vaccine is reaching a saturation point, a new national poll suggests, and among parents only three in 10 said they planned to have their children vaccinated right away.
Only 9% of respondents said they hadn’t yet gotten the shot but intended to do so, according to the survey, published in the April edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor, one more indication that achieving widespread immunity in the United States is becoming increasingly challenging.
With a growing number of scientists and public health experts concluding that it is unlikely that the country will reach the threshold of herd immunity, the Biden administration has stepped up efforts to reach those who are still hesitant. On Tuesday, the administration announced steps to encourage more pop-up and mobile vaccine clinics and to distribute shots to primary care doctors and pediatricians as well as local pharmacies.
Among parents, 26% said they wanted to wait to see how the vaccine was working with 18% saying they would do so only if a child’s school required it, and 23% said they would definitely not get their children vaccinated.
State health officials confirm 1,388 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,388 new coronavirus cases and 14 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 411,075 cases and 5,553 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
In addition, 22,664 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 50 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 104,209 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,527 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 5,642,156 doses and 31.6% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 48,238 vaccine shots per day.
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.
Germany makes AstraZeneca vaccine available to all adults
Germany is making the AstraZeneca vaccine available immediately to all adults in a push to get as many people inoculated against COVID-19 as quickly as possible, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday.
Millions of doses of AstraZeneca have been safely administered in Europe, but concerns linger over a rare type of blood clot seen in an extremely small number of recipients. That has prompted some people in Germany, even those in high-risk groups, to hold off on getting the shot, preferring to wait for another vaccine.
Spahn said many people in lower-priority groups waiting for a vaccine appointment would be happy to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. Therefore, the government has decided to allow doctors’ offices to vaccinate any adults with it.
Fairbanks’ pandemic-high spike in COVID-19 patients pushes regional hospital to limit
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are trending down in Alaska — but not in Fairbanks, which is now experiencing its worst coronavirus outbreak so far since the pandemic began.
The Interior region’s recent surge in cases — and now hospitalizations — is largely being driven by younger, unvaccinated Alaskans, and is stretching Fairbanks Memorial Hospital’s capacity and staffing to a breaking point, health officials said Wednesday.
In the last week, the number of Fairbanks Memorial hospitalized patients — and those on ventilators — doubled, said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer.
Fairbanks’ case counts first began rising in late April and there appears to be a possible link between the case rate and the region’s low 40% vaccination rate compared to the state’s average of about 54%.
On social media, memories pop up from a pandemic still going
When the pandemic passed the one-year mark, Lisa Phillips wasn’t exactly eager to walk down memory lane. She had developed symptoms and quarantined with a suspected case of COVID-19 last spring, lost her mother to the disease in July and been hospitalized in November from what she describes as a nervous breakdown fueled by grief and isolation.
But Phillips also wasn’t ready to delete the apps that provide those reminders that showed her each day what she’d shared on social media just a year earlier. That pain, she says, shouldn’t be forgotten. So she still wanted to save the memories — but for later.
As we navigate these weeks that are unspooling a year after March, April and May 2020, memories from earlier in the COVID-19 crisis are popping up in people’s social media feeds when throwbacks, reposts and commemorations crack open the digital time capsule of the pandemic before it’s even over.
Out spill the first reminders of a zillion virus-inflected anniversaries, ranging from the relatively trivial to the tragic: the empty toilet paper shelves, the new masks, the start of remote work or school, the gratitude to exhausted health care staff, the In Memoriams.
Russia approves single-dose version of Sputnik V vaccine
Russian authorities gave regulatory approval Thursday to a single-dose version of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine, arguing that the move could accelerate the process of achieving herd immunity against the coronavirus.
Named Sputnik Light, the new version is identical to the first dose of the two-dose Sputnik V. The regulatory approval will allow it to be marketed and administered as a separate COVID-19 vaccine.
The two-dose Sputnik V will remain Russia's main vaccine while Sputnik Light will be exported to other countries, said Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev, whose organization bankrolls the Sputnik shots. Sputnik Light is the fourth domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine approved in Russia.
On the ground and afar, diaspora boosts India’s virus fight
India’s large diaspora — long a boon to India’s economy — is tapping its wealth, political clout and expertise to help its home country combat the catastrophic coronavirus surge that has left people to die outside overwhelmed hospitals.
Around the world, people of Indian descent are donating money, personally delivering desperately needed oxygen equipment and setting up telehealth consultations and information sessions in hopes of beating back the outbreak.
Two humanitarian groups in the U.S. led by people of Indian background raised more than $25 million in recent days to help the teetering health care system. Indian American doctors, hotel owners and other entrepreneurs, some responding to requests for help from Indian leaders, have pledged or donated millions more.
The magnitude of the response reflects the deep pockets of many people in the overseas Indian community, as well as their deep ties to India, which have fueled similar efforts to help the country in the past.
Study: Residents left big metros during pandemic for family
Thousands of people migrated out of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas and into smaller ones during the pandemic, according to a new study and data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The study found that many of the migrants weren’t driven by new jobs or weather — or even a fear of the virus — but a desire to be closer to family and a freedom to make it happen because of remote working. Although the pattern of people moving from larger to smaller cities has been going on for several years, the pandemic exacerbated that trend, said Peter Haslag of Vanderbilt University, who conducted the study on migrant motivations with Daniel Weagley of Georgia Tech. Their paper has not yet been published.
The data adds to understanding of how the pandemic has changed where and how Americans live. The moves were most common among those with higher incomes and more job flexibility. If the trends continue, it could have long-term implications for real estate markets, tax bases and the wealth inequality in cities, according to researchers.
Seattle’s theater stagehand community, still idled by COVID shutdown, fears a mental health crisis
Cole Guinn, the assistant carpenter with Pacific Northwest Ballet, was setting up for a show in March 2020 when the announcement came — all gatherings of more than 50 people were banned under coronavirus pandemic-related restrictions.
“We’re done. Everyone’s going home,” the technical director announced. That was the last time many of the crew in that room would work for the next year.
Downtown on the same day, Nick Farwell, stage operations supervisor at ACT Theatre, rushed around all eight floors of the theater, unplugging equipment and putting the entire building into hibernation. Since then, he too has been in a sort of hibernation — waiting for work to come back, surviving on unemployment and doing whatever he can to bring in a little income.
The first wave of Washington’s COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 banned gatherings of more than 250 people, putting thousands of stagehands out of work instantly. Thousands more followed days later, when gatherings of more than 50 people were banned. Eventually, live entertainment was prohibited altogether.
Now, 14 months later, theater productions and live entertainment remain mostly dormant as the fight to contain the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Some entertainment professionals have managed to hobble along with Zoom performances or other creative options.
But stagehands, the invisible artisans and technicians whose behind-the-scenes work manifests itself in the form of onstage pyrotechnics, dreamy lighting, enchanting sets and eerie sound effects, are still out of work, and they don’t see reprieve coming any time soon.
Nintendo profits boom as people stuck at home play games
Nintendo Co.’s profit for the fiscal year that ended in March jumped 86% on healthy sales of its Switch handheld machine as people stayed home due to the pandemic, turning to video games for entertainment.
Annual profit for the Japanese maker of Super Mario and Pokemon games totaled a record 480.4 billion yen ($4.4 billion), up from 258.6 billion yen the year before. The results, released Thursday, were better than the company’s internal profit forecast of 400 billion yen ($3.7 billion).
Sales rose 34% to 1.76 trillion yen ($16 billion), the company said, but Nintendo said it didn’t expect such good fortune to persist through the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2022. It is forecasting a 29% drop in profit to 340 billion yen ($3 billion).
COVID-19 death toll is more than double the official count, UW analysis suggests
A new analysis from scientists at the University of Washington suggests 6.9 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, more than double the official death toll.
The study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates the total number of U.S. deaths at more than 905,000 — about 38% higher than the 561,594 deaths currently reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In India, where the disease has overwhelmed the health-care system, the UW group estimates the true death toll exceeds 650,000, nearly three times the official count. In Russia, the true number is likely five times higher than reported.
Many COVID-19 deaths go uncounted because some countries only record deaths that occur in hospitals or in people with confirmed infections, IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray said in a media briefing Thursday morning.
Even in the U.S., many COVID-related nursing home deaths were not recorded as such early in the pandemic, and lack of widespread testing also meant many infections went undiagnosed, he said. Local medical authorities also vary in whether they attribute deaths to COVID-19 or other underlying conditions that may have aggravated the disease, Murray said.
Alcohol deaths in England, Wales, hit 20-year high last year during pandemic
Alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales jumped by a fifth last year to reach their highest level in two decades, new government figures showed Thursday.
The Office for National Statistics said there were 7,423 deaths attributed to alcohol misuse in 2020, a 19.6% increase from the year before. It said the majority were due to chronic conditions, such as alcohol-related liver disease.
The rise began in March 2020, when the U.K. began its first coronavirus lockdown, and the rates for the rest of the year remained significantly higher than in previous years.
EU proposes joint approach to develop COVID-19 drugs
The European Commission proposed Thursday that EU nations join forces to develop and deploy COVID-19 drugs across the 27-nation bloc.
In addition to the vaccine contracts already secured through a similar joint procurement, the EU’s executive arm said it will set up a portfolio of 10 potential COVID-19 treatments, with the aim of authorizing three new ones to treat COVID-19 by October.
The Commission said vaccines alone will not eradicate coronavirus overnight and efficient drugs and treatment plans will be required to treat patients in hospitals or at home, including those affected by long-term symptoms of the disease.
India’s gov’t eases hospital oxygen shortage as demand jumps
Under order by the Supreme Court, India’s government agreed on Thursday to provide more medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital, potentially easing a 2-week-old shortage that worsened the country’s exploding coronavirus crisis.
Government officials also denied reports that they have been slow in distributing life-saving supplies donated from abroad.
The government raised the oxygen supply to 730 tons from 490 tons per day in New Delhi as ordered by the Supreme Court. The court intervened after 12 COVID-19 patients, including a senior doctor, died at New Delhi’s Batra Hospital when it ran out of medical oxygen for 80 minutes last week.
Can COVID-19 vaccines affect my period?
Can COVID-19 vaccines affect my period? It’s not known, but researchers are starting to study the issue.
Vaccines are designed to activate your immune system, and some experts have wondered if that could temporarily disrupt menstrual cycles. So far, reports of irregular bleeding have been anecdotal and there's also a lack of data tracking changes to menstrual cycles after vaccines in general.
Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician and gynecologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, said a link is possible, since the uterine lining, which is shed during menstruation, contains immune cells that help protect the uterus.
If scientists do eventually find a link between the vaccine and short-term changes in bleeding, experts say that would be no reason to avoid getting vaccinated.
Black, Hispanic and Asian American students not returning to classes despite school openings
President Joe Biden has met his goal of having most elementary and middle schools open for full, in-person learning in his first 100 days, according to new survey data, but the share of students choosing to return has continued to lag far behind.
The survey, conducted in March by the Education Department and released Thursday, found that 54% of public schools below high school were offering full-time classroom learning to any student who wanted it. It marks steady progress since January, when the figure was 46%.
But even with that milestone achieved, most students continued to learn at least partly away from school. Almost 4 in 10 students continued to take all their classes remotely, the survey found, and another 2 in 10 were split between classroom and remote learning.
The disparity reflects a trend that has alarmed education officials at all levels: Even when schools reopen, many families have opted to keep students at home for remote learning. It has been most pronounced among Black, Hispanic and Asian American students, most of whom spent no time in a classroom in March, the survey found.
US unemployment claims fall to a pandemic low of 498,000
The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to 498,000, the lowest point since the viral pandemic struck 14 months ago and a sign of the job market’s growing strength as businesses reopen and consumers step up spending.
Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that applications declined 92,000 from a revised 590,000 a week earlier. The number of weekly jobless claims — a rough measure of the pace of layoffs — has declined significantly from a peak of 900,000 in January as employers have ramped up hiring. It's still way above the 230,000 level before the viral outbreak tore through the economy in March last year.
The turnaround has many businesses, especially restaurants and others in the hospitality industry, complaining they can’t find enough workers to fill open jobs.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Washington is seeing "hopeful numbers" on COVID-19 cases, but that doesn't mean the fourth wave has receded, state officials say. The state has set up a new hotline to help residents find vaccine appointments, and you may be able to get a free Uber or Lyft ride there.
The U.S. made a dramatic shift on vaccines as the Biden administration threw its support behind easing intellectual property rules to speed the end of the pandemic. But other rich nations would have to agree, and Big Pharma is howling angrily.
A small company's vaccine could bring hope to the unvaccinated world. The key advantage of the CureVac shot, nearing the end of clinical trials: It can be stored in a regular fridge.
One man's barbecue craving has sparked a slew of new restrictions in Australia's largest city, which had nearly quashed the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Pope Francis and Aerosmith are teaming up at a unique Vatican conference on COVID-19, among other things. Fauci opened the event today with a message on faith, science and humility.
Most Read Local Stories
- The verdict is in: No one pandemics like Seattle
- Edouardo Jordan, acclaimed Seattle chef, accused by 15 women of sexual misconduct or unwanted touching
- 2 dead in White Center shooting, and father of man killed near CHOP is among the injured
- Everett welder, a US citizen, says his passport was on him when immigration officers detained him. Now he's suing.
- Virus to blame for deer foaming at the mouth, dropping dead in the San Juan Islands