Coronavirus daily news updates, April 8: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, April 8, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

A federals appeals court upheld President Joe Biden’s requirement that all federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 on Thursday. The 2-1 ruling reversed a lower court and ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the mandate.

The Oregon Attorney General sued an Illinois-based COVID-19 testing company, alleging its owners took millions of dollars in federal funds and insurance money and deceptively marketed testing services. The business, called the the Center for Covid Control, or CCC, and its testing partner, Doctors Clinical Laboratory, were sued for violating Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act.

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.

Shanghai hospital pays the price for China’s COVID response

A series of deaths at a hospital for elderly patients in Shanghai is underscoring the dangerous consequences of China’s stubborn pursuit of a zero-COVID approach amid an escalating outbreak in the city of 26 million people.

Multiple patients have died at the Shanghai Donghai Elderly Care hospital, relatives of patients told The Associated Press. They say their loved ones weren’t properly cared for after caretakers who came into contact with the virus were taken away to be quarantined, in adherence to the strict pandemic regulations, depleting the hospital of staff.

Family members have taken to social media to plea for help and answers and are demanding to see surveillance video from inside the facility after getting little to no information from the hospital.

The conditions and deaths at the hospital are a sharp rebuke against China’s strategy of sticking to a zero-COVID policy as it deals with the outbreak in Shanghai in which most of the infected people don’t have symptoms. With a focus on forcing positive cases and close contacts into designated collective quarantine facilities, the costs of zero-COVID may be outweighing the risk of getting sick.

Read the full story here.

— Dake Kang and Huizhong Wu, The Associated Press

EXPLAINER: BA.2 variant takes over. What’s known about it?

In the latest battle of the coronavirus mutants, an extra-contagious version of omicron has taken over the world.

The coronavirus version known as BA.2 is now dominant in at least 68 countries, including the United States.

The World Health Organization says it makes up about 94% of sequenced omicron cases submitted to an international coronavirus database in the most recent week. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it was responsible for 72% of new U.S. infections last week.

Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas, said he’s seen BA.2 quickly become dominant in his medical system. At the end of last week, the variant was responsible for more than three-quarters of cases in Houston Methodist hospitals. Less than two weeks earlier, 1% to 3% of cases were caused by BA.2.

Read the full story here.

— Laura Ungar, The Associated Press

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,106 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 1,443 on Thursday. It also reported 88 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state’s totals to 1,467,059 cases and 12,566 deaths, meaning that 0.86% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

DOH is still experiencing delays in reporting COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by slowdowns in their data systems during the Omicron surge, according to the health agency.

In addition, 59,473 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 241 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 380,075 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,691 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,320,857 doses and 68% 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 8,360 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.

—Daisy Zavala

Four young Seattle actors recast their aspirations amid the pandemic

It’s been a rough few years, but things are finally looking up for the theater industry and its actors. In-person productions are returning, for real this time, but the pandemic has thrown the instability and inequalities of the field into sharp relief.

In 2020, the unemployment rate for actors skyrocketed to 54% — up from 11% in 2019 — and theater companies’ average revenue dropped by more than half. Now, as the omicron wave wanes, revenue is creeping back up: last month, Broadway made $21.8 million, approaching its haul of $29.1 million during the same week in 2020, pre-closures.

For four young Seattle actors planning their careers, it’s a moment of transition and reevaluation, excitement and trepidation. 

“Connecting with other people who are acting, and how special that is, you don’t realize it until it’s gone,” says Eloise Maguire, 18, artistic director for Young Americans Theater Co., a Seattle-based, youth-run theater troupe.  

She’s returning to YATC in-person with a new appreciation for theater and a hope to enjoy it “one day at a time.” 

When it comes to planning YATC’s 15th season, Maguire is struggling with what youth theater should look like in 2022. It’s an “especially frightening and angsty time to be a teenager in America,” she says. Should theater uplift? Plumb difficult histories? Reflect America’s “seemingly dystopian height of capitalism?” Maguire hopes YATC’s next plays will “tell important stories but also bring joy and empathy to the audience.”

The pandemic inspired a shift in career plans from theater to screen acting for Bianca Mariani, 17. A senior at Lakeside School, she’s applying to acting Bachelor of Arts programs, hoping to work in television and film after she graduates. “My movie consumption definitely went up during the pandemic,” she says, and “that sparked me to be more interested in that path.”

Mariani has become comfortable with uncertainty. It’s OK that she might end up with a “safety job” to support her acting. “I already worked at a restaurant, so I know what that’s like. I know I can do it,” she said. 

Read the story here.

—Haley Zimmerman

Inflation hits nonprofits’ services, ability to fundraise

Last Mile Food Rescue in Cincinnati started shopping in November for a refrigerated box truck to move perishable donations from food retailers to distribution sites. The purchase would take some of the pressure off overstretched volunteers, who would have to make three or more runs in their cars to haul as much food as a single truckload.

But Last Mile is experiencing sticker shock. Prices for the kind of truck its leaders have in mind have soared thousands of dollars in recent months, to as much as $80,000. For an organization with an annual budget of $650,000, that’s too big a hit to absorb.

Frustrated, the charity started looking for used trucks, but the prices of used vehicles have shot up as well.

“We look every day,” says Julie Shifman, Last Mile’s executive director. “We hope that we will be able to afford it, or a major donor might be able to come in to help us.”

Last Mile is far from alone. Nonprofits of all kinds are getting hit hard by inflation, experts say. Price and wage increases are hurting nonprofits in multiple ways, making it harder to keep up with their own basic operational expenses while also forcing them to curtail the services they provide.

At the same time, there are early signs that the burst of generosity donors showed in the first year of the pandemic may be slowing considerably.

“It’s not a pretty equation,” says Shannon McCracken, chief executive of the Nonprofit Alliance, an advocacy group.

Read the story here.

—Dan Parks of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Associated Press

‘Get used to it’: Outbreaks give taste of living with virus

The U.S. is getting a first glimpse of what it’s like to experience COVID-19 outbreaks during this new phase of living with the virus, and the roster of the newly infected is studded with stars.

Cabinet members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Broadway actors and the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut have all tested positive. Outbreaks at Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University are bringing back mask requirements to those campuses as officials seek out quarantine space.

The outbreaks in the Northeast may — or may not — signal what’s to come, experts say. Case counts are no longer reliable because official testing and reporting has been scaled back and more Americans are testing at home.

Across the nation, mask-wearing is at its lowest level since April 2020, said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. For every 100 infections, only seven are recorded in official tallies, according to his modeling group’s latest estimate.

Mokdad expects the high level of U.S. immunity built up from previous infections and vaccinations will protect the nation from a large surge.

Read the story here.

—Carla K. Johnson, The Associated Press

US experts wrestle with how to update COVID-19 vaccines

More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. health officials are beginning to grapple with how to keep the vaccines updated to best protect Americans from the ever-changing coronavirus.

On Wednesday, a panel of vaccine advisers to the Food and Drug Administration spent hours debating key questions for revamping the shots and conducting future booster campaigns. They didn’t reach any firm conclusions.

The questions facing the experts included: How often to update the vaccines against new strains, how effective they should be to warrant approval and whether updates should be coordinated with global health authorities.

Last week, the FDA authorized a fourth dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for anyone 50 or older and for some younger people with severely weakened immune systems. It’s an effort to get ahead of another possible surge.

But the FDA’s vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks acknowledged at the meeting “we simply can’t be boosting people as frequently as we are.” He called the latest booster update a “stopgap” measure to protect vulnerable Americans while regulators decide whether and how to tweak the current vaccines.

Marks cautioned that waning vaccine protection, new variants and colder weather in the fall could raise the risk of more surges.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

3 Shanghai officials sacked over COVID-19 response

Three local officials in Shanghai have been sacked over a slack response to the COVID-19 outbreak in China’s largest city, where residents are complaining of harsh lockdown conditions leading to shortages of food and basic necessities.

An official notice Friday gave no details of the allegations against the three officials, but said their failure to fulfill their duties in epidemic prevention and control had allowed the virus to spread, leading to a “serious impact” on efforts to control the outbreak.

Shanghai announced more than 21,000 new local cases on Friday, of which only 824 had symptoms. Total cases in the outbreak that began last month in Shanghai have soared past the 100,000 mark, making it one of China’s most serious since the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.

No additional deaths have been reported in the outbreak blamed on the hugely infectious but relatively less lethal omicron subvariant BA.2. China’s vaccination rate is around 90%, but considerably lower among the elderly.

Shanghai has placed all 26 million residents under lockdown and implemented mass testing, while requiring anyone with a positive result to be held in an isolation center, some of which have been newly created from converted gymnasiums and exhibition halls.

Some residents have received government food packages containing meat and vegetables. Many, however, are struggling to obtain rice and other basics, with online vendors sold out and delivery services unable to keep up with demand.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Appeals court OKs Biden federal employee vaccine mandate

President Joe Biden’s requirement that all federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 was upheld Thursday by a federal appeals court.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and ordered dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the mandate. The ruling, a rare win for the administration at the New Orleans-based appellate court, said that the federal judge didn’t have jurisdiction in the case and those challenging the requirement could have pursued administrative remedies under Civil Service law.

Biden issued an executive order Sept. 9 ordering vaccinations for all executive branch agency employees, with exceptions for medical and religious reasons. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, who was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas by then-President Donald Trump, issued a nationwide injunction against the requirement in January.

When the case was argued at the 5th Circuit last month, administration lawyers had noted that district judges in a dozen jurisdictions had rejected a challenge to the vaccine requirement for federal workers before Brown ruled.

Read the story here.

—Kevin McGill, The Associated Press

Spokane hospital to accept long COVID patients for national study, the first east of the Cascades

Patients across the Inland Northwest suffering from long COVID-19 have an opportunity to be a part of the science and research seeking to find treatments and answers.

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center is one of a handful of sites at Pacific Northwest hospitals researching long COVID as a part of an initiative from the National Institutes of Health.

Institute for Systems Biology, a Seattle-based organization, received the federal contract for the study in the Pacific Northwest and is partnering with Providence hospitals throughout Washington and California to follow, test and potentially treat long COVID patients.

Read the full story here.

—Arielle Dreher, The Spokesman-Review

The new omicron subvariant XE is getting attention. How concerned should we be?

Even as the highly contagious omicron subvariant BA. 2 is increasingly dominating the U.S., an even more potentially contagious subvariant, XE, has attracted the attention of global scientists.

Early estimates as noted by the World Health Organization say XE may be 10% more transmissible than BA. 2, but it’s too soon to say whether XE will become the next prolific omicron subvariant that will become another household name. The British government has also noted that data showing XE’s growth rate advantage over BA. 2 have not remained consistent, so more data will be needed to assess XE’s likely future trajectory.

XE was first detected in Britain on Jan. 19, the WHO said. And more than 700 cases of XE have been reported in Britain, with more than 600 of them in England, according to British authorities.

There have not been significant numbers of the XE subvariant in countries outside of Britain, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday. To date, there have been only three cases of XE reported in the U.S., she said.

Read the full story.

—Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times