Seattle and its partners will administer 30,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week — a number equal to the number of doses the city was able to offer in the previous two weeks combined, according to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office. This week’s plan calls for 8,000 doses to be administered Wednesday at the Lumen Field Event Center in Sodo and for 15,500 doses to be administered at community hubs in Rainier Beach, West Seattle and North Seattle (click here to preregister and receive email notifications for available appointments if you’re eligible to receive a vaccine or call 206-684-2489 for sign-up assistance). Pop-up clinics will also be held at El Centro de la Raza, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and Idris Mosque. More information about the vaccination sites and the process is available at seattle.gov/vaccine.
Douglas Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, on Tuesday visited the Yakama Nation and the mass vaccination site at the Yakima Valley SunDome at State Fair Park on behalf of the Biden administration to promote vaccination. During his visit, Emhoff — who called efforts by Yakima County and the Yakama Nation to vaccinate people “an example for equity” — also said the administration is making $68 million available for local efforts to promote vaccination.
A possibly worrisome variant of the coronavirus first identified in India — so new that it has no official name — has been found in California by scientists at Stanford University, the Los Angeles Times reports. Nicknamed the “double mutant” variant by the BBC and others, the variant is sparking concern among some scientists because it contains not just one, but two worrisome mutations in its genetic composition that have been identified among other variants of concern being tracked by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The existence of the newly discovered variant was first disclosed by India’s government on March 24 and a day later, the Stanford lab identified the same variant in a coronavirus sample taken from a patient in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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 previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.
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North Korea tells WHO it is still virus free
North Korea has continued to claim a perfect record in keeping out the coronavirus in its latest report to the World Health Organization.
At the beginning of the pandemic, North Korea described its efforts to keep out the virus as a “matter of national existence.”
It shut its borders, banned tourists and jetted out diplomats. The country still severely limits cross-border traffic and has quarantined tens of thousands of people who have shown symptoms.
But it still says it has found no case of COVID-19, a widely doubted claim. In an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Edwin Salvador, WHO’s representative to North Korea, said the North has reported it tested 23,121 people for the coronavirus from the beginning of the pandemic to April 1 and that all results were negative.
—The Associated Press
India sees another record rise in virus cases
India reported a record daily surge in new coronavirus cases for the second time in four days on Wednesday, while New Delhi, Mumbai and dozens of other cities announced they are imposing curfews to try to slow the soaring infections.
The rise of 115,736 coronavirus cases reported in the past 24 hours tops the 103,844 infections reported Sunday. Fatalities rose by 630, the highest daily amount since November, driving the confirmed death toll in the country above 166,000.
The federal government has so far refused to impose a nationwide lockdown to contain the latest surge but has asked states to decide on imposing local restrictions.
“The pandemic isn’t over and there is no scope for complacency,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Twitter. He urged people to get vaccinated.
India has reported 12.8 million virus cases since the pandemic began, the highest after the United States and Brazil.
Japan’s Osaka prefecture issued a special warning Wednesday that a rapid surge in coronavirus cases is placing medical systems in the region at the verge of collapse and requested the cancellation of the Olympic torch relay along all public roads in the prefecture.
Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura declared a “medial emergency” in the western Japanese prefecture, where daily cases have reached new highs, and asked hospitals to urgently prepare additional beds.
Yoshimura, who previously asked for a cancellation of the torch relay only in Osaka city, said all segments on public roads should be canceled.
The Tokyo Olympics are to start in just over three months with Japan’s vaccination drive still in its initial stages. Experts say more contagious new variants of the virus are becoming more common and are urging health officials to respond quickly to prevent an explosive increase with only a fraction of the people inoculated.
More than a half million Americans gain coverage under Biden
More than a half million Americans have taken advantage of the Biden administration’s special health insurance sign-up window keyed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced Wednesday in anticipation that even more consumers will gain coverage in the coming months.
The reason officials expect sign-ups to keep growing is that millions of people became eligible effective Apr. 1 for pumped-up subsidies toward their premiums under President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief legislation. The special sign-up opportunity for Affordable Care Act plans will be available until Aug. 15.
Biden campaigned on a strategy of building on the Obama-era health law to push the United States toward coverage for all. As president, he’s wasted no time. First he reopened the law’s heath insurance markets during the pandemic. Then, the virus aid package essentially delivered a health insurance price cut by making taxpayer subsidies more generous, while also allowing more people to qualify for financial assistance. Those sweeteners are available the rest of this year and through the end of 2022.
Thailand confirms first local cases of coronavirus variant
Thailand has confirmed its first local cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K., raising the likelihood that it is facing a new wave of the pandemic, a senior doctor said Wednesday.
The variant was found in blood samples from 24 people in a new cluster of cases involving customers of nightlife venues in the capital, Bangkok, said Dr. Yong Pooworavan, a virologist from the Faculty of Medicine at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Speaking at a Health Ministry news conference, Yong described the variant as 1.7 times more contagious than the original coronavirus, still more common in Thailand. The variant was found in Thailand for the first time in January in four members of a family arriving from Britain who had been quarantined.
The new cluster from nightspots, along with another at a prison in the southern province of Narathiwat, had already caused major concern.
EU life expectancy drops across bloc amid virus pandemic
Life expectancy across much of the European Union has dropped last year, as the 27-nation bloc struggled with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The EU statistical agency Eurostat said Wednesday that “following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, life expectancy at birth fell in the vast majority of the EU member states.” It said the biggest drop was in Spain, with a loss of 1.6 years compared with 2019.
Bulgaria followed with a loss of 1.5 years, followed by Lithuania, Poland and Romania, which all saw a drop of -1.4 years. Denmark and Finland were the only nations to see a rise in life expectancy, with 0.1 years.
—The Associated Press
Agency: Possible link between AstraZeneca shot, rare clots
The EU’s drug regulator says it has found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and a rare clotting disorder but said that the benefits of the shot still outweigh risks.
In a statement released Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency placed no new restrictions on using the vaccine in people 18 and over.
US Treasury: 156 million coronavirus relief payments issued
The Treasury Department said Wednesday it has issued more than 156 million payments as part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan, including 25 million payments that were primarily to Social Security beneficiaries who hadn’t filed 2019 or 2020 tax returns.
The direct payments of as much as $1,400 per person were the cornerstone promise of Biden’s $1.9 trillion package to contain the pandemic and revive the U.S. economy. Roughly $372 billion has been paid out since March 12, a sum that likely boosted hiring last month as Americans had more money to spend.
White House officials had previously estimated that 158.5 million households would receive the payments. Wednesday’s batch of payments showed how the administration is going beyond IRS filings to get out the money. It included 19 million payments to Social Security recipients who had not submitted tax returns for the past two years and didn’t use a tool last year for non-filers to receive the two previous rounds of direct payments.
Merkel backs ‘short, uniform lockdown’ across Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday threw her weight behind a “short, uniform lockdown” as the country grapples with a high level of coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of a more contagious variant first detected in Britain.
German state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting virus restrictions, have taken differing approaches lately. Some have continued to back limited reopening steps while others advocate a stricter shutdown.
Armin Laschet, a governor who also leads Merkel’s conservative party, called this week for a vaguely defined 2-3 week “bridge lockdown” to control infections while Germany steps up a so-far slow vaccination campaign.
Karaoke party, gatherings blamed for COVID spike in Cowlitz County
A karaoke party and other social gatherings are being blamed for driving most of Cowlitz County’s rising COVID-19 cases, public health officials say.
The county is expected to be downgraded into a more restrictive phase of the governor’s reopening plan next week due to the number of new cases and hospitalizations.
Although most of the state has reported a recent increase in cases, Dr. Steve Krager, Cowlitz County’s deputy health officer, said the county has recorded more disease activity than surrounding areas.
Cowlitz County reported 29 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 4,792.
Cowlitz County recorded about 203 new cases per 100,000 people from March 12-25, according to the state’s data dashboard.
The county is among seven of the state’s 39 counties with a case rate over 200 per 100,000, along with Pierce, Yakima, Chelan, Kittitas, Whitman and Douglas counties, according to the dashboard.
The entire state entered Phase 3 on March 22, but to stay there the county must have a new case rate of less than 200 new cases per 100,000 people and fewer than five new hospitalizations per 100,000 people over the past seven days. Each county will be evaluated Monday, and any changes in phase would take effect that Friday.