Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, May 19, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Top health officials are warning that one-third of U.S. residents live in areas where the COVID-19 threat is so high people should “consider” masking up in indoor spaces.
The seven-day average for COVID-19 hospital admissions rose 19% from last week, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, an analysis found that COVID-19 vaccines could have saved 319,000 American lives, had the individuals received the doses. Researchers created a dashboard that displayed vaccine-preventable deaths per 1 million residents for every U.S. state and the country overall. The dashboard also shows an “alternative scenario” depicting what the number of deaths would’ve been if 85%, 90% or 100% of adults received vaccines.
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.
More Americans applied for jobless benefits last week
More Americans applied for jobless aid last week, but the total number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits is at a 53-year low.
Applications for unemployment benefits rose by 21,000 to 218,000 for the week ending May 14, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time applications generally track the number of layoffs.
The four-week average for claims, which smooths out some of the weekly volatility, rose 8,250 from the previous week to 199,500.
The total number of Americans collecting jobless benefits for the week ending May 7 fell again from the previous week, to 1,317,000. That’s the fewest since December 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.
Read the story here.
—Matt Ott, The Associated Press
U.S. surpasses 1 million COVID deaths, the world’s highest known total
The United States officially surpassed 1 million known deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, according to a New York Times tally, a cataclysmic outcome that only hints at the suffering of millions more Americans who are mourning their parents, children, siblings, friends and colleagues.
“Hopefully, the enormity of that number would spur us on to do whatever we can to make sure that we don’t have as bad a time in the coming months and years that we’ve had over the past two years,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told a Boston public radio station, WGBH, this month.
Some initial forecasts put the number of Americans likely to die from the virus between 100,000 and 240,000, although officials warned that the death toll could climb if protective measures weren’t taken. The United States reached 100,000 in May 2020, and 200,000 a few months later, in September.
The United States has a higher rate of infection than many other wealthy countries do, and the virus has continued to spread in a population afflicted by inequity, political divisions, a sometimes overwhelmed public health system, and an inconsistent array of policies and responses.
Read the full story here.
— Adeel Hassan, The New York Times
Boston reports ‘significant increase’ in COVID cases, hospitalizations; Massachusetts lists nearly 5,000 cases
Boston health officials on Thursday reported a “significant increase” in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations amid the omicron subvariant wave, as nearly 5,000 new virus cases were recorded across the state.
The 4,957 daily virus cases in Massachusetts was down from 5,576 reported cases last Thursday, but testing dropped 19.5% from last week.
The omicron BA.2 variant has been spreading across the region, along with the subvariant BA.2.12.1 gaining steam in New England.
The state’s daily average positive test rate has been climbing in recent weeks. The average positive test rate is now 9.35%, way up from 1.6% two months ago.
Read the full story here.
—Rick Sobey, Boston Herald
Man in Japan gambles COVID town funds mistakenly sent to him
The money was supposed to be COVID-19 assistance for low-income households in a small Japanese town, but it was mistakenly wired to a bank account of a resident who refused to return it and spent most of it on online gambling, police said.
Sho Taguchi, a 24-year-old jobless resident in the town of Abu in western Japan, was arrested on Wednesday, Yamaguchi prefectural police said.
Police said Thursday he admitted to spending most of the 46.3 million yen ($360,000) of taxpayers’ money on gambling. According to Kyodo News agency, only 68,000 yen ($530) is left in his bank account after he withdrew the money 34 times in just over 10 days after the town made the mistake.
He’s being held on suspicion of computer fraud. Taguchi had allegedly refused the town request to return the money, police said.
The funds were COVID-19 subsidies that were deposited into his bank account in April. Each of the 463 low-income households in Abu, population 3,372, was supposed to receive 100,000 yen ($780). But a town official mistakenly submitted to a financial institution a single transfer request of the total amount to Taguchi, whose name was the first on the list of recipients, Kyodo News reported.
Town officials are separately investigating how the erroneous transfer went through unnoticed, a mistake that has triggered a wave of criticism from residents.
Abu Mayor Norihiko Hanada on Thursday told reporters that the arrest is a step toward tracing the money and hoped it is recovered in full.
Taguchi’s arrest was based on his alleged transfer of 4 million yen ($31,300) of the town money paid into an account believed to be an online gambling site. Police declined to say how much of the money he actually gambled away, though he told them it was most of it.
—Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press
CDC advisers urge Pfizer booster for children ages 5 to 11
Kids ages 5 to 11 should get a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, advisers to the U.S. government said Thursday.
If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, as expected, it would open a third COVID-19 shot to healthy elementary-age kids — just like it is already recommended for everybody 12 and older.
The hope is that an extra shot will shore up protection for kids ages 5 to 11 as infections once again are on the rise.
Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s kid-sized booster, to be offered at least five months after the youngsters’ last shot.
Read the story here.
—Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press
Q&A: A parents’ guide to COVID booster shots for kids 5-11
With COVID-19 cases rising again, parents have a new consideration for protecting their children: The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization Tuesday for kids ages 5-11 to get a booster shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
So should they? Tuesday’s announcement didn’t include much guidance for parents, who may have a mountain of questions about what to do next. Here’s a few questions and answers about the latest on boosters and vaccines for kids:
Q Are the boosters available for kids now?
A The FDA’s authorization allows medical staff to give kids their third shots. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can get one today. County health departments, health care providers and major pharmacies such as CVS say they are awaiting further guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose vaccine experts are scheduled to meet Thursday.
Q When will kids be able to get boosted?
A The FDA says boosters should be given “at least five months after completion of a primary series” with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was initially authorized for kids 5-11 in October. So far only 29% of kids that age are fully vaccinated.
Q Are kids this age really at risk from the virus?
A COVID-19 has consistently been deadlier to older people, but children ages 5-11 have died from the disease — a total of 364, according to the CDC. How does that compare to other diseases? During the worst recent influenza season in 2009-2010, 358 pediatric flu-related deaths were reported to the CDC. There were 199 flu-related child deaths reported in 2019-2020, but statistical modeling suggests there may have been up to 434.
Read the story here.
—John Woolfolk, The Mercury News
Your dog is not ready for you to return to the office
Look at that face, those pleading eyes, that nose that kept you company all through the pandemic. Now explain to Cooper why it is so, so important that you return to the office — leaving her alone all day, after two years of 24/7 togetherness.
Because … what? Company d’esprit?
Todd McCormick, a derivatives trader on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, decided that he is not going to do it. “I don’t believe I will ever go back to an office,” he said. As he spoke, his 13-year-old rescue mix, Higgins, demanded a cracker.
Many New Yorkers, of course, have long since returned to their workplaces, or never stopped going to them. But for those contemplating the transition now, and for their dogs, a day of reckoning has arrived.
More than 23 million American households added a cat or dog during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and many of those animals have never known what it is like to be left alone all day. They photo-bombed Zoom meetings, typed cryptic messages on their humans’ laptops and found other ways to contribute to the interspecies work environment. For many people, the dogs were the only warm body around — therapist, companion and entertainment system rolled into one.
Now their employers want them to give that up.
Fat chance, McCormick said, not even pretending to delay Higgins’ cracker gratification.
“If I go to take out recycling or the garbage, or go get my mail, he will howl like a Costa Rican monkey, and it will sound like there’s a murder going on in my house,” he said, describing behavior that arose only since the start of the pandemic. “He knows I’m just going to be gone for three minutes, but it doesn’t stop me from being able to hear him all the way down in the elevator.”
McCormick has mostly stopped going to restaurants, and has not gone on vacation since the start of the pandemic, largely to avoid separation from his dog.
“But I’ve got to tell you, through it all, what an unbelievable companion,” he said.
Dogs in city apartments have always had to adjust to less-than-ideal conditions, but the return to work has meant that suddenly thousands are going through the same transition at the same time, said Kate Senisi, director of training at School for the Dogs in Manhattan’s East Village. “We’ve had a lot of separation cases coming through,” she said.
Dogs who were used to being left alone before the pandemic tend to adjust relatively quickly, she said. “But for the pandemic puppies” — dogs born and adopted during the pandemic — “they haven’t been left at all, and now they’re at a sensitive age, adolescence,” she said. “It can be pretty difficult. They have to be taught these new skills.”
Read the story here.
—John Leland, The New York Times
Tea and infomercials: N. Korea fights COVID with few tools
On a recent nighttime visit to a drugstore, a double-masked Kim Jong Un lamented the slow delivery of medicine. Separately, the North Korean leader’s lieutenants have quarantined hundreds of thousands of suspected COVID-19 patients and urged people with mild symptoms to take willow leaf or honeysuckle tea.
Despite what the North’s propaganda is describing as an all-out effort, the fear is palpable among citizens, according to defectors in South Korea with contacts in the North, and some outside observers worry the outbreak may get much worse, with much of an impoverished, unvaccinated population left without enough hospital care and struggling to afford even simple medicine.
“North Koreans know so many people around the world have died because of COVID-19, so they have fear that some of them could die, too,” said Kang Mi-jin, a North Korean defector, citing her phone calls with contacts in the northern North Korean city of Hyesan. She said people who can afford it are buying traditional medicine to deal with their anxieties.
Since admitting what it called its first domestic COVID-19 outbreak one week ago, North Korea has been fighting to handle a soaring health crisis that has intensified public anxiety over a virus it previously claimed to have kept at bay.
The country’s pandemic response appears largely focused on isolating suspected patients. That may be all it can really do, as it lacks vaccines, antiviral pills, intensive care units and other medical assets that ensured millions of sick people in other countries survived.
North Korean health authorities said Thursday that a fast-spreading fever has killed 63 people and sickened about 2 million others since late April, while about 740,000 remain quarantined. Earlier this week, North Korea said its total COVID-19 caseload stood at 168 despite rising fever cases. Many foreign experts doubt the figures and believe the scale of the outbreak is being underreported to prevent public unrest that could hurt Kim’s leadership.
Read the story here.
—Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press
Shanghai to reopen subways in easing of COVID lockdown
The locked-down Chinese metropolis of Shanghai will reopen four of its 20 subway lines Sunday as it slowly eases pandemic restrictions that have kept most residents in their housing complexes for more than six weeks.
The city will also restart 273 bus lines connecting major urban centers, airports, train stations and hospitals as it resumes cross-district public transit, Yu Fulin, director of the Shanghai Transport Commission, said at a daily pandemic briefing Thursday.
It wasn’t immediately clear how frequent the service would be. Bus service resumed on a trial basis within three outlying districts this week, with buses running every 30 to 90 minutes during daylight hours.
The lockdown of China’s largest city has dealt a blow to the economy and frustrated residents, particularly as many countries elsewhere in the world move away from such harsh measures as they try to live with the virus. But officials have stuck to a “zero-COVID” approach, saying that lifting restrictions could strain the public health system and lead to more deaths, particularly among the not fully vaccinated elderly.
Read the story here.
—The Associated Press
A COVID vaccine and flu shot at the same time? New strategy for this fall gains traction
As the coronavirus morphs into a stubborn and unpredictable facet of everyday life, scientists and federal health officials are converging on a new strategy for immunizing Americans: a vaccination campaign this fall, perhaps with doses that are finely tuned to combat the version of the virus expected to be in circulation.
The plan would borrow heavily from the playbook for distributing annual flu shots, and it may become the template for arming Americans against the coronavirus in the years to come.
But some experts question how well a renewed vaccination push would be received by a pandemic-weary public, whether the doses can be rolled out quickly enough to reach the people who need them most — and whether most Americans need additional shots at all.
On June 28, scientific advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will meet to identify the coronavirus variant most likely to be percolating in the United States as temperatures cool. That should leave manufacturers time to decide whether the vaccines’ composition needs to be revised and to ramp up production, hopefully enough to churn out hundreds of millions of doses by October.
Read the story here.
—Apoorva Mandavilli, The New York Times
Don’t take a rapid COVID test too soon: how and when to swab
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, taking an easy-to-get rapid test can give you quick results.
But the timing has become tricky.
If you have COVID symptoms, such as fever, cough, congestion or a sore throat, test yourself immediately but know that a negative result may mean that you swabbed too early.
“Most of the time, people are not getting a positive result until three to five days after they start to show symptoms,” said Kathryn Pebanco, a nurse practitioner at the MinuteClinic in Plantation, Florida.
Pebanco says you should repeat a rapid test a few days later if you get a negative result and have COVID symptoms or were in close contact with someone who tested positive. Meanwhile, take precautions, particularly if you are coming in contact with someone at high risk of severe disease if they get infected.
Some researchers believe the virus is more heavily concentrated in your throat and mouth before it makes its way to the nose. Now there is some discussion of adding a throat swab to test kits to make them more accurate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Multiple negative rapid tests increase the confidence that you are not infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.“
If you’re positive, begin isolating immediately — even if you don’t have symptoms. False positives are rare.
Read the story here.
—Cindy Krischer Goodman, South Florida Sun Sentinel
Seattle Times staff & news services