Coronavirus daily news updates, May 9: 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 9, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 U.S. death toll from the pandemic will hit 1 million this week. 9 million Americans have lost spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings and children to COVID-19, according to bereavement calculations by sociologists at Penn State University and the University of Southern California.

And federal funding for COVID health care is drying up, prompting concern about whether people without insurance will continue to receive timely treatment, even as case counts and hospitalizations increase in some areas. Chicago health officials are once again “strongly recommending” that people in that city wear masks indoors.

Meanwhile, the Seattle area’s food scene is roaring back, with consumer spending almost back to normal and many of the old hot spots packed again on the weekends. But under the surface, restaurants are still grappling with COVID consequences.

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.

UK Labour leader says he’ll quit if fined for office beer

The leader of Britain’s main opposition party said Monday that he will resign if he is fined by police for having a beer and food with colleagues while the U.K. was under coronavirus restrictions.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has acknowledged having a takeout curry and a beer in a lawmaker’s office in northeast England in April 2021. Starmer insists the meal, which took place during campaigning for a special election, was part of a workday and broke no rules.

After days of headlines about the story in Conservative-supporting newspapers, the local police force has said it will investigate.

Starmer said Monday he was “absolutely clear that no laws were broken.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Sweeping, limited or no powers at all? What’s at stake in the mask mandate appeal

The definition of “sanitation.” An old court case that involves an underwear manufacturer. Whether people had a fair chance to express their opinions about wearing masks on planes.

These disparate factors are in the spotlight as the Biden administration challenges a U.S. District Court ruling that overturned a federal mask mandate on public transportation. The outcome could determine the limits of federal public health officials’ power not only during the COVID-19 crisis but also when the next pandemic hits.

Sound complicated? It is.

About the only thing that’s clear so far is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask requirement for people traveling on planes, trains and buses is not likely to make a comeback anytime soon. The Department of Justice’s appeal of the Florida judge’s decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could take weeks or months.

Read the story here.

—Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

Six months after quitting, these workers are thriving

Many employers predicted that workers who left their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic to start new jobs, launch businesses or embrace early retirement would end up begging to be rehired.

Were they right? A Harris Poll survey for USA Today last month indicates that 1 in 5 workers who quit a job in the past two years regrets it. With inflation at its highest point in 40 years, and a bearish stock market taking bites out of retirement savings, is the “Great Resignation” becoming the “Great Regret?”

Not quite. Many are thrilled with the changes they’ve made; others are concerned about the current economy and what the future holds. But no one expressed a desire to go back to their previous job.

“I’m fortunate my old job forced me to make a hard decision, because my life is a lot happier on the other side,” said Katherine Vickery of Tampa, Florida, who left a job in a crowded building at one university for another that lets her work from home. “Remote work has been a game-changer for my life,” she said in an email.

“Hearing from former colleagues at my old job about the ongoing dysfunction there has only reinforced my gratitude that I’m no longer dealing with that situation,” said editor Ellen Goldlust. She relocated to Virginia after her North Carolina employer repeatedly failed to address a crushing workload. “While the new job is not perfect and certainly has its challenges, it was unquestionably the right move.”

And James, the Iraq War veteran who coined the mantra “no loyalty, but mutually beneficial relationships,” is now a consultant in a large professional services firm — and is entertaining an offer from another firm with higher pay. “Zero regrets,” he said in an email.

Beth Ashley, a former teacher from Jacksonville, Florida, said she lost 10% of her pension by not waiting until her 30th year to retire — then took another hit from “inflation headwinds,” as she called them.

“The stock market wiped out the equivalent of one year of my pension and I still have no regrets,” she said in an email. “The improvement in my personal happiness is priceless.”

Ashley supplements her retirement income working at a retail outlet. She says she has never once been treated rudely by supervisors or customers the way she was as a teacher.

Even for workers who discovered neighboring pastures weren’t as lush and verdant as promised, plenty of other gates have opened. After several months in a new job with good pay and promotions, Jackson Mullen of San Diego was told he could no longer keep his flexible schedule because the employer wanted everyone to commit to weeklong opening or closing shifts. Mullen quit and landed another job with flexible hours that allow him to keep his teenage daughter a priority.

For Nels Haugen, a Navy veteran in Lacey, Washington, the tumultuous job market worked in his favor when he transitioned into software management. “There was nothing available for a long time and then there were a bunch of great opportunities all at once,” he said in an email. He took a job with his first-choice company, which called him back after the candidate they had hired suddenly quit, reportedly to take another offer.

Other workers said although their income has taken a hit, the benefits of changing jobs and careers have been worth it.

Read the story here.

—Karla L. Miller, The Washington Post

Videos of people dragged into quarantine censored in China

Videos of people being dragged from their homes by health workers in hazmat suits coursed through Chinese social media Sunday before being pulled down on some platforms, as Shanghai’s lockdown enters its seventh week and pandemic restrictions continue to be intensified in Beijing.

The videos — which purported to show COVID-19 positive patients and their close contacts tussling with the workers — come as Shanghai tightens some aspects of its intensive lockdown despite a dropoff in new infections.

People living in the same building as confirmed virus cases now also risk being transported to government-run quarantine facilities, according to local residents and widely circulated social media posts. Previously, only people living in the same apartment or the same floor as positive cases would likely be considered close contacts and put in official quarantine.

The ramping up of curbs comes even as the city reported its fewest cases in more than six weeks, with 3,947 new infections on Sunday, down slightly from 3,975 on Saturday.

Social media posts questioning the legality of forcibly removing people from their homes and taking them to quarantine facilities, or seizing their keys to allow health workers to disinfect apartments, also appear to have been removed in some cases.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Oh, rats! As New Yorkers emerge from pandemic, so do rodents

They crawled to the surface as the coronavirus pandemic roiled New York City, scurrying out of subterranean nests into the open air, feasting on a smorgasbord of scraps in streets, parks and mounds of curbside garbage. As diners shunned the indoors for outdoor dining, so did the city’s rats.

Now city data suggests that sightings are more frequent than they’ve been in a decade.

Through April, people have called in some 7,400 rat sightings to the city’s 311 service request line. That’s up from about 6,150 during the same period last year, and up by more than 60% from roughly the first four months of 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.

In each of the first four months of 2022, the number of sightings was the highest recorded since at least 2010, the first year online records are available. By comparison, there were about 10,500 sightings in all of 2010 and 25,000 such reports in all of last year (sightings are most frequent during warm months).

Whether the rat population has increased is up for debate, but the pandemic might have made the situation more visible.

With more people spending time outdoors as temperatures grow warmer, will rat sightings further surge?

Read the story here.

—Bobby Caina Calvan, The Associated Press

Rare cases of COVID returning pose questions for Pfizer pill

As more doctors prescribe Pfizer’s powerful COVID-19 pill, new questions are emerging about its performance, including why a small number of patients appear to relapse after taking the drug.

Paxlovid has become the go-to option against COVID-19 because of its at-home convenience and impressive results in heading off severe disease. The U.S. government has spent more than $10 billion to purchase enough pills to treat 20 million people.

But experts say there is still much to be learned about the drug, which was authorized in December for adults at high risk of severe COVID-19 based on a study in which 1,000 adults received the medication.

Could some people just be susceptible to a relapse? Both the FDA and Pfizer point out that 1% to 2% of people in Pfizer’s original study saw their virus levels rebound after 10 days. The rate was about the same among people taking the drug or dummy pills, “so it is unclear at this point that this is related to drug treatment,” the FDA stated.

Some experts point to another possibility: The Paxlovid dose isn’t strong enough to fully suppress the virus. Andy Pekosz of Johns Hopkins University worries that could spur mutations that are resistant to the drug.

“We should really make sure we’re dosing Paxlovid appropriately because I would hate to lose it right now,” said Pekosz, a virologist. “This is one of the essential tools we have to help us turn the corner on the pandemic.”

Read the story here.

—Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press

After 1 million deaths, COVID leaves millions more forever changed

One million dead: The U.S. death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic will hit that unfathomable number this week, and yet there is a far larger number that reflects the true impact this virus has had on Americans over the past two years. That number is 9 million — the number of Americans who have lost spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings and children to COVID.

Sociologists at Penn State and the University of Southern California came up with a “bereavement multiplier,” a way to calculate how many close relatives each COVIDdeath leaves behind and bereft. The answer, on average, is nine — not including extended family or close friends, longtime co-workers or next-door neighbors, many of whom, the study said, are deeply affected, too.

COVID quickly became the third-biggest killer of Americans, behind only heart disease and cancer, according to federal statistics for 2020. One million is how many people live in San Jose, Calif., or Austin, Tex., or in Montgomery County, Md., or Westchester County, N.Y. It’s more people than live in the six smallest states or D.C., about as many as live in Delaware or Rhode Island.

In all likelihood, the death toll is significantly higher than the official 1 million, the National Center for Health Statistics reports, noting that some Americans whose death certificates list heart attacks or hypertensive disease likely had undiagnosed coronavirus infections.

Americans have died of COVID at a higher rate than in any other major industrialized country, and life expectancy for Americans has fallen over the past two years at the sharpest rate since the double whammy of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic.

The 1 million dead may seem like a random group, yet they fall into clear patterns: Those killed by COVID were mostly old; disproportionately low income, Black or Hispanic; and overwhelmingly unvaccinated. People who did not get the shot were 53.2 times more likely to die than fully vaccinated and boosted people.

Yet in those concentric circles of grief around the 1 million are people of every age, every income level and every background, vaccinated and not. In the ripples that bubble outward from each death, the tensions and divisions of American society are at play. COVID honors no walls.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Shanghai tightens lockdown despite falling COVID cases

Authorities in Shanghai have again tightened anti-virus restrictions, just as the city was emerging from a month of strict lockdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Notices issued in several districts said residents were ordered to stay home and are barred from receiving nonessential deliveries as part of a “quiet period” lasting at least until Wednesday. The tightened measures could be extended depending on the results of mass testing, the notices said.

It wasn’t clear what prompted the renewed tightening, with numbers of new COVID-19 cases in the city continuing to fall.

Shanghai on Monday reported 3,947 cases over the previous 24 hours, almost all of them asymptomatic, along with 11 deaths. Authorities have been gradually lifting isolation rules on the city’s 25 million residents, but the new orders appear to be returning to conditions at the early stage of the outbreak.

Shanghai originally ordered mass testing along with a limited lockdown, but extended that as case numbers rose. Thousands of residents have been forced into centralized quarantine centers for showing a positive test result or merely having been in contact with an infected person.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Workers grapple with new stresses as they return to office

As more companies mandate a return to the office, workers must readjust to pre-pandemic rituals like long commutes, juggling child care and physically interacting with colleagues. But such routines have become more difficult two years later. Spending more time with your colleagues could increase exposure to the coronavirus, for example, while inflation has increased costs for lunch and commuting.

Among workers who were remote and have gone back at least one day a week in-person, more say things in general have gotten better than worse and that they’ve been more productive rather than less, an April poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows. But the level of stress for these workers is elevated.

Overall, among employed adults, the April AP-NORC poll shows 16% say they work remotely, 13% work both remotely and in-person and 72% say they work only in-person.

Thirty-nine percent of employees who had worked at home but have returned to the office say the way things are going generally has gotten better since returning in-person at the workplace, while 23% say things have gotten worse; 38% say things have stayed the same. Forty-five percent say the amount of work getting done has improved, while 18% say it’s worsened.

But 41% of returned workers say the amount of stress they experience has worsened; 22% say it’s gotten better and 37% say it hasn’t changed.

Read the story here.

Coronavirus wave this fall could infect 100 million, administration warns

The Biden administration is warning the United States could see 100 million coronavirus infections and a potentially significant wave of deaths this fall and winter, driven by new omicron subvariants that have shown a remarkable ability to escape immunity.

The projection, made Friday by a senior administration official during a background briefing as the nation approaches a COVID death toll of 1 million, is part of a broader push to boost the nation’s readiness and persuade lawmakers to appropriate billions of dollars to purchase a new tranche of vaccines, tests and therapeutics.

In forecasting 100 million potential infections during a cold-weather wave later this year and early next, the official did not present new data or make a formal projection. Instead, he described the fall and winter wave as a scenario based on a range of outside models of the pandemic. Those projections assume that omicron and its subvariants will continue to dominate community spread, and there will not be a dramatically different strain of the virus, the official said, acknowledging the pandemic’s course could be altered by many factors.

Several experts agreed that a major wave this fall and winter is possible given waning immunity from vaccines and infections, loosened restrictions and the rise of variants better able to escape immune protections all make another major wave possible.

Read the story here.

—Joel Achenbach and Yasmeen Abutaleb, The Washington Post

The lucky few to never get COVID may teach us more about it

When her partner tested positive for the coronavirus two days before Christmas, Michelle Green worried she, too, would become ill. She was two months pregnant with their second child. He was a bartender at the time, and some of his co-workers were infected with the virus.

“I told him to get in the guest bedroom and don’t leave,” said Green, a 40-year-old project manager at a retail technology start-up in the District of Columbia. The couple, who were both vaccinated, and their toddler postponed their Christmas celebration. Somehow, Green never tested positive.

Scientists around the world are investigating how a dwindling number of people such as Green have managed to dodge the coronavirus for more than two years, even after the highly transmissible omicron variant drove a record-shattering surge in cases this winter.

A majority of Americans have contracted the novel coronavirus since it began to spread in the United States in early 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts hope that studying people who have avoided infection may offer clues – perhaps hidden in their genes – that could prevent others from being infected or more effectively treat those who contract the virus.

“What we are looking for is potentially very rare genetic variants with a very big impact on the individual,” said András Spaan, a clinical microbiologist and fellow at the Rockefeller University in New York who is spearheading a search for genetic material responsible for coronavirus resistance.

Spaan said the international study has already enrolled 700 participants and is screening more than 5,000 people who have come forward as potentially immune to coronavirus infection.

Read the story here.

—Joe Heim and Katie Shepherd, The Washington Post