With Washington indoor masks mandates are scheduled to end on March 12, state infectious-disease experts share their thoughts about this “natural experiment.”
The official global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 6 million on Monday — underscoring that the pandemic, now entering its third year, is far from over.
Meanwhile, U.S. mask makers are going out of business. The small U.S. mask manufacturers are in dire straits — if they haven’t gone out of business already.
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.
Major school districts around the country are allowing students into classrooms without masks for the first time in nearly two years, eliminating rules that stirred up intense fights among educators, school boards and parents throughout the pandemic.
New York City became the latest school district to do away with its mask requirement Monday and Philadelphia is poised to lift its mandate Wednesday, joining big cities such as Houston and Dallas and a number of a states that made similar moves in the last week. Chicago schools will end their mask mandate next Monday.
Parents, teachers and principals face a complicated balancing act in navigating the new rules. Some families are thrilled that their children no longer have to wear masks, while others say they’re still tentative and urging their kids to keep wearing face coverings for now. Teachers and principals are caught in the middle.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said Monday that the state will formally recommend against COVID-19 vaccinations for healthy children.
Ladapo made the announcement at a roundtable event organized by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that featured a group of doctors who criticized coronavirus lockdowns and mandate policies. It was not immediately clear when the state would release its health guidance.
“The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children,” Ladapo said at the end of the roundtable discussion.
“We’re kind of scraping at the bottom of the barrel, particularly with healthy kids, in terms of actually being able to quantify with any accuracy and any confidence the even potential of benefit,” he added.
The move was Florida’s latest break from White House coronavirus policy, as U.S. health officials and approved of and encourage the use of a COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as 5. Vaccines have not been authorized for children under 5.
Read the story here.
COVID-19 may cause greater loss of gray matter and tissue damage in the brain than naturally occurs in people who have not been infected with the virus, a large new study finds.
The study, published Monday in the journal Nature, is believed to be the first involving people who underwent brain scans both before they contracted COVID and months after. Neurological experts who were not involved in the research said it was valuable and unique, but they cautioned that the implications of the changes were unclear and did not necessarily suggest that people might have lasting damage or that the changes might profoundly affect thinking, memory or other functions.
The study, involving people 51 to 81 years old, found shrinkage and tissue damage primarily in brain areas related to sense of smell; some of those areas are also involved in other brain functions, the researchers said.
“To me, this is pretty convincing evidence that something changes in brains of this overall group of people with COVID,” said Dr. Serena Spudich, chief of neurological infections and global neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.
Read the story here.
Mike Bowen has spent much of the pandemic saying, “I told you so” — and you can hardly blame him. In 2005, just as low-cost Chinese manufacturers were taking over the personal protective equipment industry, Bowen joined a friend who had started a small surgical-mask company called Prestige Ameritech. The plan was to market his company’s masks to American hospitals and distributors as a way to provide resilience — a means of ensuring domestic supply if the supply chain ever broke down.
“Every company had left America,” he recalled recently. “The entire U.S. mask supply was under foreign control.” He remembers warning customers, “If there’s a pandemic, we’re going to be in trouble.”
At first, Bowen’s sales pitch wasn’t very successful. But in 2009, the swine flu virus caused a mask shortage in the United States. But as soon as the swine flu pandemic ended, the company’s new customers went right back to buying inexpensive masks from China.
Just weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the supply chain for protective equipment had broken down, creating severe shortages that cost lives. A handful of U.S. entrepreneurs decided they would do their part by manufacturing masks.
Virtually all experienced the same boom-and-bust phenomenon that Bowen experienced in 2009. At first, customers who could no longer obtain masks through their normal supply channels were beating down their doors. The same was true during the delta and omicron waves, when masks were also scarce.
But as soon as the waves crested, and Chinese companies, determined to regain their market share, began exporting masks below cost, the customers disappeared.
Today, these small U.S. mask manufacturers are in dire straits — if they haven’t gone out of business already.
Read the story here.
As COVID-19 cases drop, mask protocols ease and more Americans venture out to beaches, theme parks and other tourist destinations, travel is bouncing back to levels not seen since the pandemic took hold, industry experts say.
The bad news: Airfares and gasoline prices are also reaching highs not seen in years.
Eric Oh, a freelance writer from Thousand Oaks, is already feeling the pinch. He’s paying about $600 for a round-trip flight to Orlando, Florida, to visit Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and other theme parks — about $200 more than he paid a few months ago for a similar flight.
“It both surprised me and made me a little upset,” Oh said of the increase.
Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel Group in Garden Grove, called prices “shocking.”
“I’m seeing hotel rates at over $1,000 a night for rooms that were less than $300 in 2019, and people are paying it,” he said.
Read the story here.
The official global death toll from COVID-19 is on the verge of eclipsing 6 million — underscoring that the pandemic, now entering its third year, is far from over.
The milestone is the latest tragic reminder of the unrelenting nature of the pandemic even as people are shedding masks, travel is resuming and businesses are reopening around the globe. The death toll, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, stood at 5,999,158 as of Monday midday.
Remote Pacific islands, whose isolation had protected them for more than two years, are just now grappling with their first outbreaks and deaths, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.
Hong Kong, which is seeing deaths soar, is testing its entire population of 7.5 million three times this month as it clings to mainland China’s “zero-COVID” strategy.
As death rates remain high in Poland, Hungary, Romania and other Eastern European countries, the region has seen more than 1 million refugees arrive from war-torn Ukraine, a country with poor vaccination coverage and high rates of cases and deaths.
And despite its wealth and vaccine availability, the United States is nearing 1 million reported deaths on its own.
Belgium began easing most COVID-19 restrictions Monday in the biggest move to relax measures since the onset of the crisis some two years ago.
Gone are the coronavirus passport that allows entry into bars, restaurants, theater and cinemas as well as capacity limits.
Facemasks, long the symbol of the pandemic, will no longer be mandatory except on public transport and in the healthcare sector.
Read the story here.
China is seeing a new surge in COVID-19 cases across the vast country, despite its draconian “zero tolerance” approach to dealing with outbreaks.
The mainland on Monday reported 214 new cases of infection over the previous 24 hours, with the most, 69, in the southern province of Guangdong bordering on Hong Kong, which has been recording tens of thousands of cases per day.
Another 54 cases were reported in the Jilin province, more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to the north, and 46 in the eastern province Shandong.
In his annual report to the national legislature Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang said China needs to “constantly refine epidemic containment” but gave no indication Beijing might ease the highly touted “zero tolerance” strategy.
Li called for accelerating vaccine development and “strengthening epidemic controls” in cities where travelers and goods arrive from abroad.
Read the story here.
The COVID-19 death toll surpassed 6 million people today as we enter the pandemic’s third year. Those are officially reported deaths; the true toll may be nearly four times higher. And some places are just now experiencing their first outbreaks. Here are some of the lives we’ve lost in Washington state.
Don’t chuck your mask — many places will still require them. Washington state and Puget Sound-area counties are dropping mask and vaccine rules this month, but many local arts organizations aren’t. Here’s what you need to know about the requirements to get into movie theaters, museums, bookstores and music events this spring.
A preventive treatment can protect vulnerable people from COVID-19, but many of those people — and even their doctors — don’t know it exists.
Meet Mask Nerd, a COVID superhero who uses science and silliness to rescue you from bad masks. Aaron Collins has catapulted to fame from his laughably humble lab with witty videos on the results of his more than 500 experiments.