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Coronavirus daily news updates, May 23: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

Coronavirus daily news updates, May 23: 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 Monday, May 23, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 CDC is urging all adults over age 50 to get a second booster shot if four months have elapsed since their first booster dose. The advisory underlines growing concern among federal officials as new weekly coronavirus infections again surpassed 100,000 last week, considered to be an undercount of cases.

The guidance also extends to anyone over 12 with certain immune deficiencies, according to the CDC. On Friday, the agency’s director also said 45% of Americans live in counties with infection rates high enough to consider again wearing masks indoors.

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.

Philadelphia reinstates mask mandate in schools as coronavirus cases rise

As students and teachers in Philadelphia returned to school Monday, they had to wear masks once again, as coronavirus cases continue to rise — the latest twist in the city’s evolving approach to masking.

William R. Hite Jr., the superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, announced Friday that all school district students and staff will be required to wear their masks during the school and work day and while riding on school buses and vans until further notice.

The superintendent emphasized that the district was remaining flexible to adjust to new threats from COVID-19.

“As we’ve learned since the pandemic began, the coronavirus continues to evolve and so too will our response to it,” he said in a statement.

Last month, Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to reinstate an indoor mask mandate in response to rising coronavirus cases, only to have its health department decide four days later to lift the order because of improving conditions.

Read the story here.

—Juston Jones, The New York Times

Biden: Monkeypox threat doesn’t rise to level of COVID-19

President Joe Biden sought Monday to calm concerns about recent cases of monkeypox that have been identified in Europe and the United States, saying he did not see the need to institute strict quarantine measures.

Speaking in Tokyo a day after he said the virus was something “to be concerned about,” Biden said, ”I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19.”

Monkeypox is rarely identified outside of Africa. But as of Friday, there were 80 confirmed cases worldwide, including at least two in the United States, and another 50 suspected ones. On Sunday, one presumptive case of monkeypox also was being investigated in Broward County in South Florida, which state health officials said appeared to be related to international travel.

Although the disease belongs to the same virus family as smallpox, its symptoms are milder. People usually recover within two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized, but the disease occasionally is deadly.

Read the story here.

—Josh Boak and Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press

Kim, other N. Koreans attend large funeral amid COVID worry

A huge number of North Koreans including leader Kim Jong Un attended a funeral for a top official, state media reported Monday, as the country maintained the much-disputed claim that its suspected coronavirus outbreak is subsiding.

Since admitting earlier this month to an outbreak of the highly contagious omicron variant, North Korea has only stated how many people have fevers daily and identified just a fraction of the cases as COVID-19. Its state media said Monday that 2.8 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 68 of them died since late April, an extremely low fatality rate if the illness is COVID-19 as suspected.

North Korea has limited testing capability for that many sick people, but some experts say it is also likely underreporting mortalities to protect Kim from political damage.

Read the story here.

—Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press

Beijing extends work-from-home order as COVID-19 cases rise

Beijing extended orders for workers and students to stay home and ordered additional mass testing Monday as cases of COVID-19 rose in the Chinese capital.

Numerous residential compounds in the city have restricted movement in and out, although conditions remain far less severe than in Shanghai, where millions of citizens have been under varying degrees of lockdown for two months.

Beijing on Monday reported an uptick in new cases to 99, up from a previous daily average of around 50. Two more districts, Shijingshan and Haidian, began a work-from-home policy this week, bringing the total to six. In cases where people need to go to their offices, the number of workers is limited to 30% of the normal level.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

New York school vaccine mandate survives as Supreme Court rejects appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a challenge to New York’s requirement that schoolchildren be vaccinated against serious diseases, refusing to question the state’s 2019 repeal of its longstanding exemption for families with religious objections.

The justices without comment left in place a state court ruling that said New York wasn’t targeting religion when it eliminated the exemption after the worst measles outbreak in a quarter century. The vaccine requirement applies to children under 18 in both public and private schools.

The rebuff is consistent with the Supreme Court’s handling of cases involving COVID-19 vaccines. The justices have let state and local government impose shot requirements even without the type of religious opt-out the court has required in other contexts — for example, with regard to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate.

A group of parents challenged the 2019 repeal, saying it violated their rights under the Constitution’s First Amendment and was driven by anti-religious bias. They faulted the state for removing the religious exemption while allowing other people — including students over 18, adults who work for schools and children with medical exemptions — to go unvaccinated. 

The parents said they were forced to either violate their religious beliefs or home-school their children.

New York first required schoolchildren to be vaccinated in 1860. It’s currently one of six states — along with California, Maine, Mississippi, West Virginia and Connecticut — not to have a religious opt-out, according to the challengers.

Read the story here.

—Greg Stohr, Bloomberg

Pfizer says 3 COVID shots protect children under 5

Three doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine offer strong protection for children younger than 5, the company announced Monday. Pfizer plans to give the data to U.S. regulators later this week in a step toward letting the littlest kids get the shots.

The news comes after months of anxious waiting by parents desperate to vaccinate their babies, toddlers and preschoolers, especially as COVID-19 cases once again are rising. The 18 million tots under 5 are the only group in the U.S. not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

The Food and Drug Administration has begun evaluating data from rival Moderna, which hopes to begin offering two kid-sized shots by summer.

Read the story here.

—Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press

This rural, red Southern county was a vaccine success story. Not anymore

At a glance, it seemed like a Southern pandemic success story in a most unlikely place.

A small county northeast of Chattanooga, along the twisting banks of Chickamauga Lake, for much of the past year has reported the highest COVID-19 vaccination rate in Tennessee and one of the highest in the South.

Meigs County, which is overwhelmingly white, rural and conservative — three demographics that strongly correlate with low vaccination rates — appeared to have broken a pattern of hesitancy and distrust that has stymied vaccination efforts across the U.S.

“They are a rural county, and they have the highest vaccination rate in the state,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in September as the delta variant savaged his state, praising Meigs County for “leading the way on vaccines.”

If only it were true.

The rate in Meigs County was artificially inflated by a data error that distorted most of Tennessee’s county-level vaccination rates by attributing tens of thousands of doses to the wrong counties, according to a Kaiser Health News review of Tennessee’s vaccination data. When the Tennessee Department of Health quietly corrected the error last month, county rates shifted overnight, and Meigs County’s rate of fully vaccinated people dropped from 65% to 43%, which is below the state average and middling in the rural South.

Read the story here.

—Brett Kelman, Kaiser Health News

WHO chief: The COVID pandemic is ‘most certainly not over’

The COVID-19 pandemic is “most certainly not over,” the head of the World Health Organization warned Sunday, despite a decline in reported cases since the peak of the omicron wave. He told governments that “we lower our guard at our peril.”

The U.N. health agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told officials gathered in Geneva for opening of the WHO’s annual meeting that “declining testing and sequencing means we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus.” He also noted that almost 1 billion people in lower-income countries still haven’t been vaccinated.

In a weekly report Thursday on the global situation, WHO said the number of new COVID-19 cases appears to have stabilized after weeks of decline since late March, while the overall number of weekly deaths dropped.

While there has been progress, with 60% of the world’s population vaccinated, “it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” Tedros said.

“Reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions, and this in a world in which testing rates have plummeted,” he added.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Rate of COVID cases in WA is rising

The rate of COVID-19 cases is rising in Washington.

The statewide average of cases over the past seven days is 228 per 100,000 people, keeping Washington in the state Department of Health’s highest-risk category for the spread of COVID-19, The Spokesman-Review reported.

Epidemiological curves show the number is still climbing, the newspaper reported.

The most recent statewide data, complete through the week of May 11, shows the average percent in the last week of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients is still at one of its lowest points in the pandemic, at about 6%. But it is increasing. At its peak in January, that number was almost 32%.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

California coronavirus spread significantly worsens, with cases doubling in some areas

The number of coronavirus cases in California significantly worsened last week, hitting a level not seen since the winter’s omicron surge and raising concerns about the possibility of a big jump in infections this summer.

Weekly coronavirus cases roughly doubled across wide swaths of California, including Riverside and Santa Barbara counties, as well as the Central Valley and Silicon Valley. They rose by roughly 85% in Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Statewide, the increase was 63%, bringing the case rate to 231 for every 100,000 residents. A rate of 100 and above is considered a high rate of transmission.

Hospitalization rates, while increasing for the last four weeks, remain low. Hospitals in two of California’s most populous regions, L.A. County and the San Francisco Bay Area, are not under strain, and the rate of new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations has remained at only a fraction of the number seen in New York and some other East Coast cities.

Read the story here.

—Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times

Harris, surgeon general, warn of health care worker burnout

Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy are warning of burnout among the nation’s health care staff after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the potential for severe worker shortages in the years ahead if the situation is not addressed.

Harris and Murthy on Monday are visiting Children’s National Hospital in Washington to meet with health care providers and deliver remarks as Murthy unveils a report, “Surgeon General’s Advisory Addressing Health Worker Burnout.” It sounds the alarm over a projected shortage of “3 million essential low-wage health workers” in the next five years, as well as nearly 140,000 doctors by 2033.

“The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce. Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority,” Murthy said in a statement. “COVID-19 has been a uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families, pushing them past their breaking point. Now, we owe them a debt of gratitude and action. And if we fail to act, we will place our nation’s health at risk.”

The administration is calling for new investments and steps to protect the mental wellbeing of health care workers, including by expanding counseling offerings, reducing administrative burdens and promoting worker safety on the job.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID no longer the biggest concern for many travelers

The latest installment of Longwoods International’s ongoing American Travel Sentiment Study indicates that record-high gas prices and soaring airfare costs have overtaken pandemic-related concerns for consumers as the summer travel season approaches.

According to the study, one-third of travelers said that gas prices will greatly affect their travel plans over the next six months, while one-quarter reported that the soaring price of plane tickets will impact them in a similar way.

Only 19% of respondents said the COVID-19 pandemic now stands to greatly influence their travel decisions for the same time frame.

“Inflation, high gas prices, and generally rising costs are front of mind for travelers this summer season,” remarked Amir Eylon, President and CEO of Longwoods International. “However, competing with these concerns is the strong pent-up demand for post-pandemic travel, so the impact of prices may be somewhat muted by that surge in demand.”

Read the story here.

—Laurie Baratti, TravelPulse