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

Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, April 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
People over 60 years old should make an appointment to receive a second COVID-19 booster shot, according to U.S. officials, who cited a study indicating that a fourth shot significantly reduces the risk of COVID-19 infection and death among older individuals.
Meanwhile, several airlines, including Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, dropped their mask requirements following a federal judge’s decision to strike down federal mask mandates on airplanes and public transportation.
Despite the ruling, masks will continue to be required on buses and trains in the Seattle area. Washington State Ferries, however, announced late Monday that masks are no longer required on vessels or inside terminals.
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.

A ruling by a federal judge has ended — at least for now — the requirement that people wear masks on planes and public transportation, and there is plenty of confusion about the new, post-mask world of travel.
The Justice Department left the door open Tuesday to a possible appeal of the ruling, but only if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thinks the mandate is necessary. An appeal could be a politically risky move for the Biden administration.
The decision by a lone judge in Florida toppled 14 months of government insistence that travelers wear masks to reduce transmission of COVID-19. Within hours, all major U.S. airlines and many airports announced — sometimes to passengers in the middle of flights — that travelers could take off their masks.
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New evolution of the coronavirus’s omicron variant could mean the virus is becoming more “steady” and “flu-like,” said Trevor Bedford, a leading infectious disease scientists in Seattle who has tracked the virus’ genome since the pandemic began.
Local and global researchers are attempting to predict how the virus might evolve over the next year as new COVID-19 resources roll out, including the federal government’s new pandemic early warning system launched on Tuesday.
One theory comes from a team led by Bedford, who studies the coronavirus and its evolution at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The idea that the coronavirus will one day look similar to seasonal influenza has been widely discussed over the past year, though last winter’s emergence of omicron and its unusually rapid spread prompted a lot of questions about the theory. Now, more research about how omicron’s subvariants have evolved has shed new light on the topic, Bedford said during a Tuesday webinar hosted by UW Medicine and Fred Hutch.
A new team of federal health scientists officially embarked Tuesday on a mission to provide what has often been absent from the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic: better, faster information about what is likely to happen next in this public health emergency and in future outbreaks.
“We think of ourselves like the National Weather Service, but for infectious diseases,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist and associate director for science at the initiative, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 100 scientists will analyze technical data and communicate policy options to decision-makers and the public about how the virus is behaving and who is most at risk — in user-friendly terms.
“We would love to be able for people to look to us to say, ‘I’m about to commute on the Red Line … Should I bring a mask based on what’s happening with respiratory disease in my community? Should I have my birthday party outside or inside?’ Those kinds of decisions, I think, are where we would like to move toward,” Rivers said.
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Japan’s health ministry on Tuesday formally approved Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine, a fourth foreign-developed tool to combat the infections as the country sees signs of a resurgence led by a subvariant of fast-spreading omicron.
The ministry approval comes the day after its experts panel endorsed use of Novavax’s protein vaccine, which is designed with similar technology used to fight diseases such as the flu and hepatitis B, for two initial shots and a booster.
Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters that Novavax adds variety to the choices available and could appeal to those who are hesitant to use COVID-19 vaccines such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, which are designed with newer technologies.
Japan reported 24,164 new cases Monday, according to the health ministry.

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Johnson & Johnson is suspending sales forecasts for its COVID-19 vaccine only a few months after saying the shot could bring in as much as $3.5 billion this year.
A global supply surplus and uncertainty about future demand prompted the change, J&J said Tuesday.
J&J’s one-shot vaccine brought in $457 million in global sales during the first quarter, but demand for initial vaccine doses and booster shots has slowed since shots from J&J, Pfizer and Moderna entered the U.S. market last year.
More than 82% of the U.S. population age 5 and older has already received at least one vaccination dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are now preferred in the U.S. after regulators said most Americans should receive them instead of J&J’s version due to a rare blood clotting problem.
Overall, J&J’s profit fell 17% to $5.15 billion in the first quarter.

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President Joe Biden’s administration has been working for months to prepare people to rethink their personal risk calculations as the nation gets used to the idea of living with an endemic COVID-19.
But that measured approach disappeared abruptly when a federal judge on Monday threw out the federal requirement to mask up when using mass transit. The ruling added to the urgency of the messaging challenge as the administration tries to move past the virus in the lead-up to midterm elections.
After the government last month eased indoor mask-wearing guidelines for the vast majority of Americans – even in schools — masking on planes was one of the last redoubts of the national COVID-19 restrictions. Now, as the policy falls, the administration turns to accelerating its efforts to provide the best advice for millions making their own personal safety decisions in the still-dangerous pandemic.
It’s both a public health imperative and an important shift in emphasis for Biden’s political future.
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A new U.S. government center aims to become the National Weather Service for infectious diseases — an early warning system to help guide the response to COVID-19 and future pandemics.
The new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics is housed at CDC and its initial $200 million in funding came from the 2021 coronavirus relief package. So far, it’s awarded $21 million to academic institutions to develop modeling and forecasting methods.
Marc Lipsitch, the new center’s science director said forecasting for COVID-19 in the U.S. has been hampered by data-collection problems. Regular population sampling with swab tests and blood draws could help as would better access to data from state governments and hospitals.
CDC has been granted temporary authority for COVID-19 data collection, but the agency broadly relies on voluntary reporting and complex data agreements with states, Rivers said.

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In his half-century in the death business, Richard Moylan has never experienced years like these.
As president of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery, he spends his days managing the historic site where families have spent the past couple years tending to loved ones lost to the pandemic. But the bigger change had been building before then: the choice to routinely cremate over traditional casket burial of years past.
At the height of the pandemic, Green-Wood’s crematory burned constantly, 16 to 18 hours daily. A wall recently collapsed. Maintenance costs spiked. Last year, 4,500 bodies entered the five chambers, a 35% increase over 2019.
So many ashes to ashes, so much dust to dust. Cremation is now America’s leading form of final “disposition,” as the funeral industry calls it — a preference that shows no sign of abating.
In 2020, 56% of Americans who died were cremated, more than double the figure of 27% two decades earlier, according to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). By 2040, 4 out of 5 Americans are projected to chose cremation over casket burial, according to both CANA and the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).
This seismic shift represents potentially severe revenue losses for the funeral industry. It’s leading innovators to create a growing number of green alternatives and other choices that depart from traditional casket funerals. And rapidly shifting views about disposing with bodies have also led to changes in how we memorialize loved ones — and reflect an increasingly secular, transient and, some argue, death-phobic nation.
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Millions of coronavirus vaccine doses that the United States has already purchased and could send abroad could soon expire because of the impasse in Congress over additional pandemic aid, Sen. Chris Coons has warned.
Senators failed to pass the stalled $10 billion package before leaving for a two-week recess earlier this month, despite increasing pressure from the White House to approve emergency aid for new vaccines, therapeutics and research.
Coons, who has been one of the negotiators of the package in the Senate, framed global aid as a “critical” national security matter on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, saying that expanding international access to vaccines was “the best way to protect the American people from the next variant.”
Public health experts have repeatedly stressed that vaccine inequity allows new and potentially more dangerous variants to emerge. Only 16% of populations in low-income countries have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to data compiled by the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford, compared with 80% in high- and upper-middle-income countries.
Still, $5 billion in funding for global vaccination aid was stripped from U.S. lawmakers’ latest proposal on the package in an effort to appease Republicans’ spending concerns.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its international COVID-19 travel advisory system Monday, designating its highest-risk category for extreme scenarios.
As of Monday, the CDC dropped all countries from its “Level 4” category, now labeled “Special Circumstances/Do Not Travel.” About 120 destinations now have a Level 3 advisory – including Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy and many other popular European destinations – for “high” levels of the coronavirus, while 12 destinations sit at Level 2. Another 55 are designated Level 1, its lowest-risk level.

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About one in 10 children lived in a household where they didn’t get enough to eat from 2019 to 2020, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Experts say the issue could worsen if more isn’t done to ensure that federal programs aimed at addressing the problem are adequately funded.
The study found that 10.8% of children up to age 17 experienced food insecurity during the study period. A family is considered food insecure if it is unable to regularly get enough food that is nutritionally adequate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The study also found vast disparities in the demographics of children who were affected by food insecurity. Nineteen percent of Black children, nearly 16% of Hispanic children and 6.5% of white children live in households where they didn’t get enough to eat, according to the study.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many parents to lose jobs or have a harder time getting enough food for their kids. But also, the closing of schools around the country created a challenge for children who relied on accessing free- and reduced-priced lunches at school.
Currently, the the war in Ukraine is causing the price of food, fuel and other commodities to skyrocket.
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Moderna hopes to offer updated COVID-19 boosters in the fall that combine its original vaccine with protection against the omicron variant. On Tuesday, it reported a preliminary hint that such an approach might work.
Today’s COVID-19 vaccines all are based on the original version of the coronavirus. But the virus continues to mutate, with the super-contagious omicron variant — and its siblings — the latest threat.
Before omicron came along, Moderna was studying a combination shot that added protection against an earlier variant named beta. Tuesday, the company said people given that beta-original vaccine combination produced more antibodies capable of fighting several variants — including omicron — than today’s regular booster triggers.
While the antibody increase was modest, Moderna’s goal is to produce a combination shot that specifically targets omicron. “These results really give us hope” that next step will work even better, said Dr. Jacqueline Miller, a Moderna vice president.
Tuesday’s data was reported online and hasn’t been vetted by independent experts.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing British lawmakers on Tuesday for the first time since he was fined by police for attending a birthday party in his office that broke coronavirus lockdown rules.
As the House of Commons returns from an 11-day Easter break, Johnson is expected to apologize for what he insists was a minor slip-up — but rebuff opposition calls to resign for flouting the restrictions that he imposed on the country during the pandemic.
The opposition Labour Party is trying to get lawmakers to censure Johnson over the “partygate” scandal. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, said he would allow Labour to hold a Commons debate and vote on whether Johnson should be investigated for allegedly misleading Parliament. Ministers found to have done that are generally expected to resign.
Johnson and his Conservative government have faced growing outrage since allegations surfaced late last year that he and his staff held office parties in 2020 and 2021 when millions in the country were barred from meeting with friends and family — or even attending funerals for their loved ones.
Johnson paid a 50-pound ($66) fine last week for attending his own surprise birthday party in Downing Street in June 2020. The penalty made Johnson the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.
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As coronavirus infections tick up across the United States, there is a lot of confusion about if, and when, to wear a mask.
“This is the hardest thing of all, because it’s not just the risks and benefits to you,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, a professor and the chair of the medicine department at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s the risks and benefits to the people around you.”
One good way to frame the issue is to ask: Who is the most vulnerable person in your immediate circle?
If you have compromised immunity, for example, or live with someone who does, it’s a good idea to continue wearing a mask and maintaining social distance around strangers, especially in indoor areas with standing air where the virus may collect. Masks are also important if you’re unvaccinated or spending time with others who are unvaccinated. Unvaccinated people are at overwhelmingly higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Masks are also a must in hospitals, where there are many vulnerable people.
But if you’re otherwise healthy and have received your vaccine and booster shots, your risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19 is extraordinarily small. It’s about in line with other risks people take every day, such as driving in a car.

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A federal judge’s decision to strike down a national mask mandate was met with cheers on some airplanes but also concern about whether it’s really time to end one of the most visible vestiges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The major airlines and many of the busiest airports rushed to drop their requirements on Monday after the Transportation Security Administration announced it wouldn’t enforce a January 2021 security directive that applied to airplanes, airports, taxis and other mass transit.
But the ruling still gave those entities the option to keep their mask rules in place, resulting in directives that could vary from city to city.
Passengers on an United Airlines flight from Houston to New York, for instance, could ditch their masks at their departing airport and on the plane, but have to put them back on once they land at Kennedy Airport or take a subway.
A video showed some passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight cheering and applauding as they took off their masks upon hearing an announcement that they were now optional. One man could bee seen happily twirling his mask on his finger.

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