Coronavirus daily news updates, June 2: 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 Thursday, June 2, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 U.S. will experience “a lot of unnecessary loss of life” unless Congress provides billions more dollars for COVID-19 vaccines, testing and treatments in preparation for the pandemic’s next wave, the Biden administration said.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 infections reportedly surged in South Africa despite research that suggests 98% of the population had antibodies.

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.

Coronavirus daily news updates, June 2: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

How does Paxlovid work? Here’s what to know about the COVID antiviral medication

California Gov. Gavin Newsom was prescribed Paxlovid after he tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, his office announced.

“The Governor has also received a prescription for Paxlovid, the antiviral that has been proven effective against COVID-19, and will begin his 5-day regimen immediately,” the May 28 statement said.

The Food and Drug Administration first issued an emergency use authorization for Paxlovid in December.

“This authorization provides a new tool to combat COVID-19 at a crucial time in the pandemic as new variants emerge and promises to make antiviral treatment more accessible to patients who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19,” Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said at the time of the drug’s authorization.

Read the full story here.

— Daniella Segura, McClatchy Washington Bureau

US Interior Secretary Haaland tests positive for COVID-19

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms, the agency said Wednesday.

Haaland, 61, is isolating in Nevada where she took part in a roundtable discussion Tuesday in Las Vegas about clean energy production on public lands, the Interior Department said in a statement.

Haaland began experiencing coronavirus symptoms on Wednesday and tested positive. She is fully vaccinated and has received two booster shots. The statement said she expects to recover quickly.

Haaland canceled travel plans elsewhere in the U.S. West and is working remotely.

Haaland last tested negative on Monday during a visit to the White House and was not in close contact with President Joe Biden, the statement said. Other people who might have been in close contact with Haaland during her travels are being notified.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Fewer Americans apply for unemployment benefits last week

Fewer Americans applied for jobless aid last week with the number of Americans collecting unemployment at historically low levels.

Applications for unemployment benefits fell by 11,000 to 200,000 for the week ending May 28, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time applications generally track the number of layoffs.

The four-week average for claims, which evens out some of the weekly volatility, dipped by 500 from the previous week to 206,500.

The total number of Americans collecting jobless benefits for the week ending May 21 fell from the previous week, to 1,309,000, the fewest since Dec. 27, 1969.

American workers are enjoying historically strong job security two years after the coronavirus pandemic plunged the economy into a short but devastating recession. Weekly applications for unemployment aid have been consistently below the pre-pandemic level of 225,000 for most of 2022, even as the overall economy contracted in the first quarter and concerns over inflation persist.

Last month, the government reported America’s employers added 428,000 jobs in April, leaving the unemployment rate at 3.6%, just above the lowest level in a half-century. Hiring gains have been strikingly consistent in the face of the worst inflation in four decades, with employers adding at least 400,000 jobs for 12 straight months.

Read the story here.

—Matt Ott, The Associated Press

Where you still need to mask up to enjoy Seattle arts

If you plan on spending any Seattle summer nights in performing-arts venues, you’d be smart to keep a stocked face-mask stash.

When King County dropped its mask mandate in March, many of Seattle’s performing arts organizations didn’t follow suit, cooperatively deciding to require masks and proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test in their facilities until at least May 31. As June rolls in, most of those organizations have not shifted in their protocols.

The Seattle Symphony is requiring masks and proof of vaccination or a negative test at all Benaroya Hall events through June 26, according to its website. 

ACT Theatre, which ended its season in May, will reevaluate and make a decision about future protocols prior to its next season’s start in September. Seattle Opera and PNB’s seasons end this month, and they will reevaluate before their next seasons start in the fall. After its current season ends in August, 5th Avenue Theatre will also reevaluate. 

Seattle Theatre Group, which runs the Paramount, Neptune and Moore theaters, is still requiring masks and proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test at its venues but is actively having conversations about protocols in preparation for the coming months, according to Gabrielle Nomura Gainor, senior communications manager.

As of June 1, Town Hall no longer requires proof of vaccination or a negative test, but it is still requiring masks at its events through July 31, according to its website.

While most chain multiplexes made masks optional starting in mid-March, many indie movie theaters continued requiring them. Grand Illusion Cinema, a small movie theater operated by about 30 volunteers, says it does not currently have any plans to stop requiring masks.

ing to see movies, and no one has issues masking up to visit us.”

For now, it’s still best to check individual venue websites for their most current coronavirus safety requirements before hitting the town.

Read the story here.

—Grace Gorenflo

Pfizer submits COVID shot for children under 5 for FDA authorization

Pfizer Inc. asked U.S. regulators to clear its COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children under age 5, an effort to extend protection against the virus to the country’s youngest.

The drugmaker and BioNTech SE finalized their rolling application to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorization of their vaccine in kids ages 6 months through 4 years old, the companies said in a statement on Wednesday. The vaccine partners began the submission process in February.

Pfizer and BioNTech announced in late May that a three-shot regimen was highly effective and prompted a strong immune response in children under age 5, based on early results from a highly anticipated trial that is likely to pave the way for infants and toddlers to get immunized.

The preliminary analysis found that the vaccine was 80.3% effective in preventing COVID infections among young children, with 10 infections occurring among all participants. Final results will be determined once 21 children enrolled in the study have been infected, according to the companies.

Read the story here.

—Riley Griffin, Bloomberg News

South Africa was hit by wave of infections, despite most people having antibodies

Coronavirus infections surged in South Africa in recent months despite research suggesting that about 98% of the population had some antibodies from vaccination, previous infection or both.

The study, released Thursday but not yet peer reviewed, analyzed the prevalence of two types of antibodies in 3,395 blood donors collected mid-March across the country in order to estimate prevalence at the national level. It found that by that time, about 87% of the population had likely been infected with the coronavirus. About 11% had antibodies that, according to the study’s authors, suggest that a person had been vaccinated but not recently infected.

But although the vast majority of the South African population had antibodies against the virus, many still became infected in the latest virus wave, which began in April and was driven by BA.4 and BA.5, new subvariants of omicron.

As the wave peaked in late May, confirmed new cases of the virus averaged more than 7,000 a day, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. New daily deaths also rose, averaging about 50 per day, but remained far below the peak of South Africa’s second wave in January 2021, when, according to the data, an average of more than 500 people were dying per day.

The researchers say the study provides yet more evidence of the capacity of the virus to evolve and dodge immunity.

Read the story here.

—Livia Albeck-Ripka, The New York Times

WHO believes COVID getting worse, not better in North Korea

A top official at the World Health Organization said the U.N. health agency assumes the coronavirus outbreak in North Korea is “getting worse, not better,” despite the secretive country’s recent claims that COVID-19 is slowing there.

At a briefing on Wednesday, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Mike Ryan appealed to North Korean authorities for more information about the COVID-19 outbreak there, saying “we have real issues in getting access to the raw data and to the actual situation on the ground.” He said WHO has not received any privileged information about the epidemic — unlike in typical outbreaks when countries may share more sensitive data with the organization so it can evaluate the public health risks for the global community.

WHO has previously voiced concerns about the impact of COVID-19 in North Korea’s population, which is believed to be largely unvaccinated and whose fragile health systems could struggle to deal with a surge of cases prompted by the super-infectious omicron and its subvariants.

Ryan said WHO had offered technical assistance and supplies to North Korean officials multiple times, including offering COVID-19 vaccines on at least three separate occasions.

Read the story here.

—Maria Cheng, The Associated Press

More than two-thirds of people have COVID antibodies, WHO says

More than two-thirds of the world’s population probably have significant levels of COVID-19 antibodies, meaning they have either been infected or were vaccinated, the World Health Organization said. 

So-called seroprevalence rates surged to 67% in October from 16% in February of 2021, the WHO said, in a summary of studies from around the globe. Given the emergence of the fast-spreading omicron variant, the figure is probably even higher now.

The WHO’s roundup offers a snapshot of how well the world is increasing resistance to the pandemic. While vaccines provide only modest protection against infection from omicron, the WHO still urged countries to boost vaccination rates, especially for people in high-risk groups, because immunization gives higher levels of protection against severe disease than a previous COVID infection. 

Read the story here.

—Thomas Mulier, Bloomberg