The Perfect Enemy | Coronavirus daily news updates, April 30: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world - The Seattle Times
May 28, 2022

Coronavirus daily news updates, April 30: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world – The Seattle Times

Coronavirus daily news updates, April 30: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world  The Seattle Times

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While unvaccinated people accounted for the majority of COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. during most of the pandemic, a recent Washington Post data analysis of state and federal data found that older and immunocompromised individuals now run the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19 even if they’re vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration set tentative dates in June to run a public review, usually the final step in authorization, of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for the youngest children in the U.S.

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.

Navigating the pandemic

1:38 pm

Instacart searches for a direction as its pandemic boom fades

Last summer, Instacart had a rough reality check. After a year of explosive, pandemic-driven growth for its grocery delivery business, people were returning to grocery stores. Sales slowed. New customers were harder to find. It could have been the kiss of death for a startup that expected to grow very fast.

So Apoorva Mehta, Instacart’s co-founder and CEO, asked Uber and DoorDash, two top competitors, if they were interested in acquiring or partnering with his company, said eight people with knowledge of the talks. Nothing came of the discussions, and in early July Mehta said he would leave the top job at his company but stay on as chair.

The tumultuous summer set the stage for Instacart’s current uncertainty as it tries to avoid becoming another pandemic boom company that has fizzled, like Peloton or Zoom. Mehta’s successor, Fidji Simo, a member of Instacart’s board and a former executive at Facebook, has to lead the company against competition that has become tougher since the pandemic started. She also has to manage skeptical investors who have been waiting at least four years for Instacart to go public.

When that will happen became murkier last month when, in a rare move, Instacart said it was slashing its valuation by 40% to $24 billion, citing the “market turbulence” that has roiled technology companies. In addition, top executives have left, including two presidents, one of whom resigned after just three months.

Instacart faces tougher competition from its gig economy peers, as well as from new instant delivery startups like Gopuff and grocery chains’ own online services. Revenue was still growing last year, but not nearly as fast as it did in 2020. Sales growth also slowed sharply, to 15% last year from 330% in 2020, according to 1010data, a market research firm, while the average size of each order shrank, the company said.

In a recent interview, Simo said she had a plan to tackle those challenges. She has a new vision for the business that includes selling software to grocers and selling more ads inside the app, where people place their orders. Read the full story here.

—Erin Griffith and Kellen Browning, The New York Times

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12:43 pm

Pandemic pet boom breeds desire for dog-friendly offices

No one loves the ping-pong table at Rhombus Systems’ Sacramento office as much as Wallace.

One ear is always listening for the “tap tap” sound of the ball bouncing back and forth. The sound prompts him to race to where the table is located, burst through the door and enthusiastically run along the side of the ping-pong table as the game is played at the office of the security systems company.

If Wallace could, he’d do this all day, say workers who have witnessed his obsession with ping-pong.

Wallace isn’t a worker at Rhombus, but a 2-year-old border collie who frequently goes to the office a few days a week alongside his dog mom, Natalie Secco, since the office became pet-friendly during the pandemic.

“Once he figured out that people bounce the ball back and forth, he had to be in the [ping-pong] room,” said Secco, Rhombus Systems’ director of sales, adding that Wallace hangs out by her desk and is always hoping someone will toss his ball across the room.

As offices start reopening and thousands of workers are being called back for the first time in two years, some companies are allowing employees to bring their pets. About 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many workers say they find pet-friendly environments an important perk for their new furry family members. A recent survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, owned by Mars Inc., showed that 57 percent of the 1,500 pet owners polled said they would be happiest returning to a pet-friendly workplace. Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office. Tech companies including Google, Amazon and Uber plan to continue to allow dogs at their offices, even with their flexible office policies.

But the move is causing a mixed reaction among workers: some are happier and more productive with their furry animals by their side, while others are annoyed or have quit their jobs due to allergies or a phobia.

Read the full story here.

—Danielle Abril, The Washington Post

11:48 am

Hollywood’s COVID safety measures aren’t going away anytime soon. Here’s why

Even with nearly 80% of Californians at least partially vaccinated, hospitalizations down from their highs and eased mask mandates, COVID-19 safety protocols on Hollywood film and TV sets are unlikely to go away soon.

An alliance of major studios and entertainment industry unions are once again at the bargaining table to renegotiate the so-called return-to-work agreement — the terms for working during the pandemic — that expires April 30.

Some people close to talks say they are expecting current measures that have suppressed outbreaks and shutdowns to remain . Moreover, most production insurance still excludes coverage for COVID-19 related losses and the vast majority of filming is going ahead regardless, said John Hamby, National Entertainment Practice Leader at Risk Strategies.

“That’s not going to change in the foreseeable future,” Hamby said. “A lot of producers out there are still taking extra steps and precautions, because no producer wants to have a film shut down.”

The easing of the pandemic presents the film and TV industry with a challenge. The protocols have kept outbreaks on set low, but they have slowed down production and added costs.

Read the full story here.

—Anousha Sakoui, The Los Angeles Times

10:52 am

Airbnb’s COVID refund policy is ending

Airbnb guests who cancel their reservation because of a coronavirus infection will no longer be eligible for a refund. The short-term rental company announced the move, which goes into effect May 31, in a blog post Friday that explained updates to its “extenuating circumstances” policy.

Under that policy, guests who contracted the virus were allowed to cancel and get a refund, and hosts could cancel reservations without a penalty. After May 31, circumstances related to COVID-19 – including a guest or a host getting infected – will no longer be covered.

Airbnb said in the blog post that the time was right to make the change as a result of a “new way of living” since the pandemic began. Hosts’ typical cancellation policies will apply after the policy change.

“As we’ve seen the heroic effort of health authorities and medical advancements around the globe, almost two thirds of the world’s population have received at least one dose of a vaccination against COVID-19,” the company said on its website. “And many countries have now implemented living with COVID-19 plans, as it becomes part of our world.”

Cancellation policies on the platform vary by host. Airbnb said almost two-thirds of active listings offer “moderate” or “flexible” policies – though none of those options provide refunds for last-minute cancellations.

Read the full story here.

—Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post

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9:57 am

How China is using metal barriers to fight COVID

Several districts in Shanghai put up metal barriers last weekend as part of the city’s battle against a COVID-19 outbreak, in a move that drew protests and anger from some residents.

Workers in white head-to-toe protective gear erected mesh wire fences and metal sheets to block off roads, residential communities and even the entrances of some apartment buildings. A majority of the city’s 25 million residents had already been prevented from leaving their homes during a month-long lockdown, though some neighborhoods have since opened up.

The barriers are deployed to ensure control over movement and often leave only a small entrance that can be easily guarded.

The barriers are new to Shanghai but have been deployed throughout the pandemic in other cities across China. For example, early in 2020, some neighborhood committees — the lowest rung of local government — erected metal sheets and fences in parts of Beijing to control access points to homes. Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in December 2019, also erected metal barriers across the city.

How they have been deployed varies. Sometimes the government sets up fencing around entire neighborhood blocks, leaving just one or two entrances. In other cases, they build fences in front of individual residential complexes.

The fencing has been widely deployed in border regions as well, including in Suifenhe, a city in the northeast that borders Russia. The metal barriers there block off entire streets.

Read the full story here.

—Huizhong Wu, The Associated Press

8:55 am

Headcounts are down at public schools. Now budgets are, too.

A school system in suburban Kansas City is eliminating over 100 jobs, including kindergarten aides and library clerks. Oakland, California, is closing seven schools. Other districts around the country are merging classrooms, selling buildings and leaving teaching positions unfilled in order to close budget gaps.

Public school systems are beginning to feel the pinch from enrollment losses tied to the coronavirus pandemic.Money for schools is driven partly by student headcounts, and emergency provisions in many states allowed schools to maintain funding at pre-pandemic levels. But like the billions of dollars of federal relief money that have helped schools weather the crisis, those measures were not meant to last forever.

In Olathe, Kansas, where the school system is cutting 140 jobs, Deputy Superintendent John Hutchison said the extra federal money merely put off the inevitable.

Now it is trimming millions of dollars from its budgets because enrollment, having peaked at more than 30,000 students in fall 2019, fell by around 900 in the first full school year of the pandemic. Less than 100 of those students have returned.

Families opting for homeschooling, private schools and other options sent enrollment down sharply in the first full school year of the pandemic, and generally it has been slow to recover.

Between fall 2019 and fall 2021, school districts across Washington state saw enrollments decline by 3.5%, with some districts seeing steeper drops than others, according to The Seattle Times. At the same time, the state’s home-schooled population ballooned, nearly doubling during the first full school year of the pandemic, 2020-21. 

Read the full story here.

—Heather Hollingsworth and Annie Ma, The Associated Press

8:55 am

Correspondents’ gala offers political normalcy despite COVID

Much of Washington, D.C., is ready to party like it’s 2019, before the coronavirus, when the biggest risk at the annual White House press corps gala was more likely to be jokes that ruffled too many political feathers.

After the pandemic nixed the event in 2020 and 2021, the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner returns Saturday night, with Joe Biden as the first sitting president to attend in six years after Donald Trump shunned it while in office.

Comedy is also back, with “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah as headliner. Celebrities are, too: Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson are expected to turn up, and the Funny or Die comedy studio is co-sponsoring an after-party. The event also draws a large swath of government officials and other prominent figures.

“Seeing the president of the United States come back, and the dinner come back, I think signals more than a pause in the pandemic,” said Harold Holzer, author of the book “The Presidents vs. The Press.” “We’re safe to talk to each other again.

“I think this relationship — even if it’s a one-night thing where witticisms are exchanged and people make fun of others and each other — it’s a very healthy thing.”

Read the full story here.

—Will Weissert – The Associated Press