Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Dec. 3, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 United States on Wednesday recorded its single-worst daily death toll since the pandemic began — and on the same day when COVID-19 hospitalizations also hit an all-time high. Meanwhile, drugmakers’ coronavirus vaccine plans continue to push forward, and on Wednesday Moderna announced it would soon begin testing its vaccine in children.

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 the state.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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California ties new COVID-19 rules to hospital capacity

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is on the brink of a new stay-at-home order that would close businesses and curb travel in regions that could see hospitals overwhelmed by coronavirus patients.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new rules that take effect Saturday, designed to keep local health systems from collapsing under the weight of skyrocketing COVID-19 caseloads. Previous restrictions were based on infection rates in counties.

The new order divides the state into five broad regions and restricts those with intensive care unit bed capacity below 15%. On Thursday, Newsom said four regions — all but the San Francisco Bay area — could meet that threshold “within a day or two.”

California’s virus hospitalizations have nearly quadrupled since mid-October and now stand at 8,240, including 1,890 in intensive care units. The Department of Public Health reported 19,437 deaths since the start of the pandemic, including 220 health care workers.

“If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see our death rate climb, more lives lost,” Newsom said.

—Associated Press
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South Korea reports highest daily tally in 9 months

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has recorded 629 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, the highest daily tally in about nine months.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday that 600 of the newly confirmed cases were domestically transmitted — nearly 80 % of them in the densely populous Seoul area, which has been at the center of a viral resurgence.

The cases took the country’s total to 36,332 with 536 deaths.

After successfully suppressing two previous outbreaks this year, South Korea has been grappling with a fresh spike in infections since it relaxed stringent social distancing rules in October. Last week, it toughened those restrictions in the greater Seoul area and other places.

Authorities say they’re struggling to contain the latest bout because it’s tied to a variety of sources.

On Thursday, more than 400,000 students including 41 virus patients took the nationwide university exam at about 1,380 sites, raising worries about a viral spread. Those infected were separated from the others.

—Associated Press

18th person with virus in Oregon Corrections custody dies

SALEM, Ore. — A man who tested positive for the coronavirus while incarcerated at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem has died, state officials said.

The state Department of Corrections said in a news release Thursday that the man described only as between 80 and 90 years old died at a local hospital on Monday. He was the 18th person in state corrections custody to die after testing positive.

The state has not been releasing the names of incarcerated people who have died after testing positive for the coronavirus, saying it’s in order to balance the desire for transparency with their legal obligation to protect personal health information.

In the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 Weekly Outbreak Report released Wednesday, a catalog of active outbreaks lists three state correctional facilities with the most cumulative cases including Snake River, Eastern Oregon, and Oregon State. Since Nov. 18, more than 1,200 COVID-19 cases have been recorded at the three facilities, according to the report.

—Associated Press

Alaska reports 8 recent deaths related to COVID-19

JUNEAU, Alaska — The state on Thursday reported eight recent deaths related to COVID-19 and 755 new cases of infection among Alaska residents.

Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said the deaths occurred within the last week. They include a man in his 30s; a woman in her 50s; four men in their 70s and a man and woman in their 80s, according to the state health department.

Since the start of the pandemic, the department has reported about 33,290 resident cases of COVID-19, and 129 deaths. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

“Cases diagnosed in recent weeks have exceeded the ability of public health to immediately report individual cases,” the department said in a release Thursday, adding: “New positive tests are always an underestimate of true new cases.”

—Associated Press
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Southwest warns nearly 7,000 workers of possible furloughs

DALLAS — Southwest Airlines warned nearly 7,000 workers on Thursday that they could lose their jobs unless labor unions accept concessions to help the airline cope with a sharp drop in travel caused by the pandemic.

Southwest is operating far fewer flights, and it asked unions in October for help with “overstaffing costs” that it estimates will amount to more than $1 billion in 2021. Southwest asked for pay cuts of around 10% in exchange for no furloughs through next year.

The airline’s top labor-relations official, Russell McCrady, said Southwest’s goal is to save every job. “However, due to a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations, we had to proceed with issuing notifications,” he said. The advisories to employees, known as WARN notices, are legally required 60 days before large-scale layoffs or furloughs.

McCrady said the airline is willing to resume negotiations with unions.

The warnings went to 6,828 employees including more than 2,500 ground workers and 1,500 flight attendants represented by the Transport Workers Union and 1,221 pilots, who have their own union. As of the end of September, Southwest had about 58,000 employees, including 11,000 on long-term leave.

—Associated Press

World War II vet beats COVID-19, marks 104th birthday

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — An Alabama man who spent World War II repairing bomb-damaged trains in France recovered from a fight with COVID-19 in time to mark his 104th birthday on Thursday.

Major Wooten was physically drained and a little fuzzy mentally after battling the new coronavirus but appears to be on the mend, said granddaughter Holley Wooten McDonald.

“I’m just thankful that they were able to treat him so quickly and we were able to get him tested,” said McDonald, adding: “It’s amazing that a 104 year old survived COVID.”

Madison Hospital shared video of Wooten wearing a face mask and waving while workers sang “Happy birthday dear Pop Pop” as he was discharged in a wheelchair decorated with balloons on Tuesday, two days before his actual birthday.

McDonald said her grandfather, who served as a private first class in the Army before going on to a postwar career with U.S. Steel in Birmingham, tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 23 after her mother — his daughter — got the illness.

—Associated Press

Pandemic further entrenches U.S. gender gap in wage bargaining

More women than men said they have less power to ask for a pay raise or benefits in light of the pandemic, indicating that the coronavirus has entrenched the gender disparity in wage bargaining, a survey by Moody’s Analytics and Morning Consult showed.

Women of all races and income groups are less likely to bargain for raises than men, according to the institutions’ survey of 5,000 U.S. adults in mid-September. About 15% of women said they were more willing to ask for raises due to the impact of the virus, compared with 20% of men.

The pandemic has hit women’s work prospects particularly hard as they’ve suffered higher job losses than men during the initial wave of the coronavirus and are expected to take longer to return to pre-pandemic employment levels. For women who were able to remain in the labor force, the lack of bargaining power means they’ll be less likely to enjoy wage gains even when labor demand strengthens as the economy recovers.

Women’s lack of power in wage bargaining contributes to sluggish wage growth and will ultimately “act as a headwind to consumer spending and other measures of financial stability,” Leer said.

—Associated Press
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California church sees victory in order from high court

LOS ANGELES — Lawyers for a church with more than 160 congregations across California said they would seek an immediate court order Thursday allowing indoor worship after the Supreme Court told a lower federal court to reexamine state coronavirus restrictions on church services.

The apparent victory for Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry follows a recent high court ruling in favor of churches and synagogues in New York.

Attorney Mathew Staver, who represents the church, said he expected a swift order from a Los Angeles federal judge blocking Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close most indoor worship in most counties. He said the high court’s actions would also lead other churches to challenge COVID-19 health orders.

“The bottom line result is that where the court needs to go is inevitable,” Staver said. “What the court did last week and what they did today, it’s a whole new landscape and I think they’ve telegraphed quite clearly the direction they’re going.”

—Associated Press

‘Rapid response teams’ being sent to short-staffed nursing homes in Washington state as COVID-19 surges again

On Halloween weekend, McKay Healthcare & Rehab in Grant County faced a two-pronged crisis: 24 out of the Soap Lake long-term care facility’s 31 residents had tested positive for COVID-19, and so had the bulk of its staff.

As residents tested positive were temporarily transferred to another facility, just three nurses, including the facility director, were left to care for those who remained.

“I have a hard time comprehending now that we were in such dire straits,” said Erica Gaertner, the facility’s director, who later tested positive for the virus, too. “My concern was that if any of the three nurses, or, heaven forbid, we all test positive, we would have no nursing staff. There was no help.”

Washington state officials are hoping to prevent that type of crisis with a plan to deploy temporary teams of registered nurses and other health care workers to long-term care facilities across the state with staffing shortages. Six “rapid response” teams will work at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes and other long-term care providers where staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 or are in quarantine because exposure to the virus, the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) announced Thursday.

The announcement of the monthlong effort comes as virus cases in long-term care facilities surge. In the past two weeks, the number of facilities with at least one active case of COVID-19 has increased by nearly 100, and senior-care industry advocates are calling for more resources for residents and workers.

Read the full story here.

—Paige Cornwell

King County to bail out Washington State Convention Center expansion with possible $100 million loan

King County will look to bail out the Washington State Convention Center with a $100 million loan as private sources of funding for the $1.9 billion expansion project in downtown Seattle have dried up amid the coronavirus-fueled economic downturn.

The pandemic has crippled both the business and the budget of the convention center, as conventions have been scrapped and hotels have sat virtually empty.

But construction of an expanded convention center — one of the city’s largest-ever construction projects — is well underway, with a cement and steel armature looming above a full city block in the heart of downtown. Construction began in 2018 and the center was slated to open in 2022. Foundations have been built, walls have risen, buses have been booted from the downtown transit tunnel.

And this may not be the last bailout the struggling project requires.

Read the full story here.

—David Gutman
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In seismic shift, Warner Bros. to stream all 2021 films

NEW YORK — In the most seismic shift by a Hollywood studio yet during the pandemic, Warner Bros. Pictures on Thursday announced that all of its 2021 film slate — including a new “Matrix” movie, “Godzilla vs. Kong” and the Lin-Manuel Miranda adaptation “In the Heights” — will stream on HBO Max at the same time the films play in theaters.

Among the myriad release plan changes wrought by the pandemic, no studio has so fully embraced streaming as a lifeline. But after disappointing domestic ticket sales for “Tenet,” and with the majority of U.S. theaters currently closed, the AT&T-owned Warner Bros. will turn to a hybrid distribution model next year. Films will debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max in the U.S. After one month, they will stop streaming and continue to play only in theaters.

The move follows Warner Bros.’ decision to put “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max in December, along with a concurrent theatrical run. If that pivot sent shockwaves through the industry, Thursday’s announcement rattled Hollywood to the core.

“Given the unprecedented time that we’re in, we needed a creative solution to address our fans, our filmmakers and our exhibitors, said Ann Sarnoff, chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, in an interview. “Big and bold is a necessity right now.”

Sarnoff called it a “temporary solution” and a “one-year plan.”

—Associated Press

Next for Biden: Getting the right health team as virus rages

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event announcing his nominees and appointees to serve his administration’s economic policy team, at The Queen theater, in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Biden’s energy and environment team will have the difficult task of crafting climate policies that can bypass Congress and survive judicial review. (Kriston Jae Bethel/The New York Times)
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event announcing his nominees and appointees to serve his administration’s economic policy team, at The Queen theater, in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Biden’s energy and environment team will have the difficult task of crafting climate policies that can bypass Congress and survive judicial review. (Kriston Jae Bethel/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Up soon for President-elect Joe Biden: naming his top health care officials as the coronavirus pandemic rages. It’s hard to imagine more consequential picks.

Already two Democratic governors seen as candidates for health and human services secretary have faded from the frame. Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo told reporters Thursday that she would not be the nominee and is staying to help her state confront a dangerous surge of COVID-19 cases.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was offered another Cabinet post — interior secretary — and turned it down, a person close to the Biden transition said Wednesday. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Lujan Grisham’s office had no comment.

Biden is expected to announce his choice for HHS secretary next week. That person has to have “the confidence of the president, the ability to operate collaboratively across the government, credibility within the health care world, and the capacity to work with the states,” said former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, who served under Republican President George W. Bush.

In the running for HHS is former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, co-chair of Biden’s coronavirus task force. Murthy has a soft-spoken demeanor and a reputation for consensus building. He’s the author of a recent book addressing the human toll of loneliness, a problem that has become more widely recognized in the time of COVID-19.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

State confirms 2,095 new COVID-19 cases — 313 in King County — and 50 new deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,095 new COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, and 50 new deaths.

In King County, the state’s most populous, 313 new cases and eight new deaths were reported, totaling 46,070 infections and 905 deaths.

The update brings the state’s totals to 172,437 cases and 2,900 deaths, meaning that 1.7% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. 

The DOH also reported that 11,195 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 241 new hospitalizations as of Wednesday.

In King County, state health officials have confirmed a total of 46,070 COVID-19 diagnoses and 905 deaths. 

—Nicole Brodeur
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Pandemic pushing America’s 911 system to breaking point, ambulance operators say

EMS and firefighters in Washington, D.C., prepare for a shift. (Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu)
EMS and firefighters in Washington, D.C., prepare for a shift. (Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu)

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed America’s 911 system and emergency responders to a “breaking point,” with ambulance workers and their services financially strained.

Ambulance providers from New York to Iowa to Georgia say the situation is increasingly dire. Desperate for a financial infusion to keep such operations afloat, the American Ambulance Association recently begged the Department of Health and Human Services for $2.6 billion in emergency funding.

“The 911 emergency medical system throughout the United States is at a breaking point,” Aarron Reinert, the association’s president, wrote to federal health officials in a Nov. 25 letter obtained by The Washington Post. “Without additional relief, it seems likely to break, even as we enter the third surge.”

The strain could result in longer wait times and some providers going out of business, ambulance operators said.

Ambulance providers are struggling to meet surging demand even while grappling with increased costs of personal protective equipment, overtime, staff shortages as workers fall ill and decreases in the type of emergency calls that are reimbursed.

“There are services going out of business and many right there on the brink,” said Steven Vincent, vice president for Gold Cross EMS, which serves a region of roughly 400,000 people in Augusta, Ga.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

What’s in the $908 billion economic relief proposal

WASHINGTON — A group of about a half-dozen centrist lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled an approximately $908 billion plan that has since gained the support of top congressional Democrats and several senior Senate Republicans, breathing new life into long-stalled talks over critical economic relief.

Lawmakers have not yet released legislative text behind the plan, but a one-page summary provided by the group — titled the “COVID Emergency Relief Framework” — combines many of the central priorities of congressional leaders of each party, as well as those of President-elect Joe Biden.

The framework would meet congressional Democrats’ top demands to provide hundreds of billions in aid to jobless Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars to hard-hit states and cities.

It would also meet Republican’s chief demands to approve new small business funding and, at least temporarily, protect businesses and other entities from coronavirus-related lawsuits. The measure includes other priorities to help the nation through the coronavirus pandemic, such as funding for health officials to help with the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, as well as aid for hospitals, the hungry, and the U.S. Postal Service.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Among first acts, Biden to call for 100 days of mask-wearing

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE – NOVEMBER 10: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden removes his mask to address the media about the Trump Administration’s lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act on November 10, 2020 at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware. Mr. Biden also answered questions about the process of the transition and how a Biden Administration would work with Republicans. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)
WILMINGTON, DELAWARE – NOVEMBER 10: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden removes his mask to address the media about the Trump Administration’s lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act on November 10, 2020 at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware. Mr. Biden also answered questions about the process of the transition and how a Biden Administration would work with Republicans. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden said Thursday that he will ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts as president, stopping just short of the nationwide mandate he’s pushed before to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The move marks a notable shift from President Donald Trump, whose own skepticism of mask-wearing has contributed to a politicization of the issue. That’s made many people reticent to embrace a practice that public health experts say is one of the easiest ways to manage the pandemic, which has killed more than 275,000 Americans.

The president-elect has frequently emphasized mask-wearing as a “patriotic duty” and during the campaign floated the idea of instituting a nationwide mask mandate, which he later acknowledged would be beyond the ability of the president to enforce.

Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Biden said he would make the request of Americans on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

“On the first day I’m inaugurated, I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask — not forever, just 100 days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction” in the virus, Biden said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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States plan for vaccines as daily US virus deaths top 3,100

FILE – In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, medical personnel prone a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. Across the U.S., the surge has swamped hospitals with patients and left nurses and other health care workers shorthanded and burned out. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) NYAG401 NYAG401
FILE – In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, medical personnel prone a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. Across the U.S., the surge has swamped hospitals with patients and left nurses and other health care workers shorthanded and burned out. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) NYAG401 NYAG401

States drafted plans Thursday for who will go to the front of the line when the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine become available later this month, as U.S. deaths from the outbreak eclipsed 3,100 in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring.

With initial supplies of the vaccine certain to be limited, governors and other state officials are weighing both health and economic concerns in deciding the order in which the shots will be dispensed.

States face a Friday deadline to submit requests for doses of the Pfizer vaccine and specify where they should be shipped, and many appear to be heeding nonbinding guidelines adopted this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put health care workers and nursing home patients first.

But they’re also facing a multitude of decisions about other categories of residents — some specific to their states; some vital to their economies.

Colorado’s draft plan, which is being revised, puts ski resort workers who share close quarters in the second phase of vaccine distribution, in recognition of the $6 billion industry’s linchpin role in the state’s economy.

In Nevada, where officials have stressed the importance of bringing tourists back to the Las Vegas Strip, authorities initially put nursing home patients in the third phase, behind police officers, teachers, airport operators and retail workers. But they said Wednesday that they would revise that plan to conform to the CDC guidance.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

European Court of Human rights rejects French virus lawsuit

The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed a legal complaint from a French citizen who claimed the anti-COVID 19 measures put in place by the French government were insufficient.

In its decision Thursday, the Strasbourg-based court said Renaud Le Mailloux’s application is inadmissible as he could not establish he was directly affected by the measures he complained about.

Le Mailloux's group wanted the French government to provide health professionals with FFP2 and FFP3 facemasks, surgical masks for patients, and mass coronavirus testing facilities for all. The group also wanted the government to authorize the use of the hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin drug combination for high-risk COVID-19 patients.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Africa needs COVID-19 vaccine for 60% in 2-3 years

Africa’s top public health official says 60% of the continent’s population needs to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the next two to three years.

The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters on Thursday that if it takes four to five years, “the virus will be endemic in our communities.”

African health officials are taking heart in vaccine progress, but concerns are growing that the continent of 1.3 billion people will be near the end of the line in obtaining doses.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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California governor: Most of state nears stay-home order

Two people walk past the holiday window display at the Dior store on a mostly empty Rodeo Drive, early Monday night, Nov. 30, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif. The three-week “safer at home” order due to the coronavirus pandemic began on Monday. Indoor retail businesses, which make much of their profits during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, are allowed to remain open but with just 20% of capacity, including nail salons and other personal care services. (AP Photo/Pamela Hassell)
Two people walk past the holiday window display at the Dior store on a mostly empty Rodeo Drive, early Monday night, Nov. 30, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif. The three-week “safer at home” order due to the coronavirus pandemic began on Monday. Indoor retail businesses, which make much of their profits during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, are allowed to remain open but with just 20% of capacity, including nail salons and other personal care services. (AP Photo/Pamela Hassell)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will likely order most of its businesses to close or limit capacity in the coming days, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, part of new rules triggered when fewer than 15% of beds are available in intensive care units for regional hospital networks.

Newsom said four of the state’s five regions — excluding the San Francisco Bay area — will meet that threshold within a day or two. When they do, the state will order the closure of all hair salons and barbershops; bars, breweries and distilleries; casinos and indoor and outdoor playgrounds.

Restaurants would be limited to take-out and delivery, while retailers would have to limit customers inside their stores to 20% capacity during the busy holiday shopping season.

Once triggered, regions would have 48 hours to implement the rules, which must stay in effect at least three weeks. The rules don’t apply to public schools.

“The bottom line is if we don’t act now our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said. “This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Facebook to remove COVID-19 vaccine-related misinformation

LONDON — Facebook said Thursday it will start removing false claims about COVID-19 vaccines, in its latest move to counter a tide of coronavirus-related online misinformation.

In the coming weeks, the social network will begin taking down any Facebook or Instagram posts with false information about the vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts.

The U.S. tech giant is taking action as the first COVID-19 vaccines are set to be rolled out. Britain this week became the first country to give emergency authorization for a vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, and innoculations could start within days. Regulators in the U.S., the European Union and Canada are also vetting vaccines.

Facebook said it’s applying a policy to remove virus misinformation that could lead to “imminent physical harm.”

Posts that fall afoul of the policy could include phony claims about vaccine safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects.

Read the full story here.

VA may distribute coronavirus vaccines this month, leader tells veterans groups

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie puts on a mask as he departs a White House event in June 2020. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford).
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie puts on a mask as he departs a White House event in June 2020. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford).

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs expects to distribute coronavirus vaccines within a week or two, with a focus on inoculating high-risk veterans and staff members, VA officials told veterans-group leaders on a Thursday call.

Physicians and doctors treating veterans in covid-19 wards will receive top priority for the vaccine, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who oversees the nation’s largest integrated health network, said on the call.

The VA’s effort will be an early test of the federal government’s enormous task of vaccine distribution as infections and daily deaths soar to new heights. More than 5,000 veterans have died under VA care, along with 74 staff members, according to VA data.

Veterans and staff members in other high-risk categories, such as spinal cord injury wards, are also in the high-priority groups, according to a veterans-group leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private call.

Wilkie did not elaborate on other groups, and did not address prioritizing minority veterans – a group VA has said is infected at higher rates than White veterans. He also did not provide a timeline of when veterans and VA staffers can expect to receive vaccinations.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post
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Portugal unveils its national vaccination plan for COVID-19

Portugal is aiming to vaccinate almost 1 million people against the coronavirus between January and April at the latest, and perhaps by the end of February, depending on the pace of vaccine deliveries, officials said Thursday.

The priority group for inoculations will include 400,000 people over age 50 who have illnesses that make them vulnerable to severe COVID-19, the government announced Thursday.

Postcard racks are filled instead with face masks outside souvenir shops in Lisbon’s old center, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Postcard racks are filled instead with face masks outside souvenir shops in Lisbon’s old center, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

That first group for vaccinations also includes 300,000 frontline health care workers and emergency responders, including police officers, and 250,000 people living in care homes and care home employees.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

France to prioritize nursing home residents for vaccination

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday that COVID-19 vaccines will go to nursing homes residents first when doses become available in France, which is not expected before the end of the month.

France has purchased vaccines through agreements the European Union reached with drugmakers to secure shots for the EU’s 27 member nations.

Read more here.

—The Associated Press

King County’s largest behavioral health contractor to lay off 25 employees, cut 31 other positions

Sound, the Tukwila-based nonprofit and King County’s largest behavioral health services provider, plans to lay off 25 administrative employees and cut an additional 31 vacant clinical positions amid shortfalls driven “by the COVID-19 pandemic and the new King County funding model,” the nonprofit’s top executive announced in an email this week.

President and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Evans revealed the grim news in an email to Sound employees on Monday, saying the nonprofit will end the year with a $2.5 million loss and a projected $9.2 million budget shortfall next year.

“Such losses are not sustainable and could put Sound’s future in jeopardy if we do not take immediate, corrective action,” Evans’ email said.

A spokesperson for Sound said this week that because the 25 layoffs involve administrative — not clinical — employees, they won’t impact services to patients.

Read more here.

—Lewis Kamb
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Finding a new path in a pandemic: How one Seattle architect went from mansions to tiny homes

On a March morning, COVID-19 took away Juliette Dubroca's work designing multimillion-dollar homes in Seattle. But by the afternoon, it offered her a new direction.

Architect Juliette Dubroca, with Central Collective, helped build T.C. Spirit Village in Seattle’s Central District. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Architect Juliette Dubroca, with Central Collective, helped build T.C. Spirit Village in Seattle’s Central District. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

While walking along 22nd Avenue in the Central District — Dubroca’s street — on the day she lost her job, she spotted a group of men eating lunch at a new construction site for the Low Income Housing Institute, which was part of a new, expedited plan by the city of Seattle to create more temporary housing options for Seattle’s homeless residents at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

The goal of the project was to build a tiny house village faster than anything the affordable housing nonprofit had done before, Gerber said, and because of COVID-19, they had to do it with far fewer volunteers.

She ran back home to grab her tape measure and sketch pad.

Going from banisters and concrete artists to building 96-square-feet homes “has been a very huge 180,”Dubroca said in May. “Until a few weeks ago, I was working for the super rich, and now I’m working for the super poor.”

Read the story here.

—Anna Patrick

Do “self-cleaning” elevator buttons really work?

Do “self-cleaning” elevator buttons really work?

Do “self-cleaning” elevator buttons really work? AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin
Do “self-cleaning” elevator buttons really work? AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

Without rigorous independent studies, experts say it’s hard to verify claims of “self-cleaning” or “antiviral” surfaces that have popped up during the pandemic.

But they also say you shouldn’t worry too much about how well such features really work. COVID-19 is an airborne disease. Research suggests it would be difficult to catch the virus from surfaces like an elevator button.

Read more here.

—The Associated Press

School closings threaten gains of students with disabilities

Without any in-school special education services for months, 14-year-old Joshua Nazzaro’s normally sweet demeanor has sometimes given way to aggressive meltdowns that had been under control before the pandemic.

The teenager, who has autism and is nonverbal, often wanted no part of his online group speech therapy sessions, and when he did participate, he needed constant hands-on guidance from aides hired by his family. He briefly returned to his private Denville, New Jersey, school for two days a week, but surging coronavirus infections quickly pushed learning back online through at least Dec. 10.

Some of Josh’s progress “has been undone, and there are no plans to make it up,” said Sharon MacGregor, who has been involved in the boy’s care since she began dating his father several years ago.

The same frustrations are shared by many of the nation’s 7 million students with disabilities — a group representing 14% of American schoolchildren. Advocates for these students say the extended months of learning from home and erratic attempts to reopen schools are deepening a crisis that began with the switch to distance learning in March.

Read more here.

Paraprofessional Jessica Wein helps Josh Nazzaro answer questions from his teacher while attending class virtually from his home in Wharton, N.J., Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. The pandemic is threatening to wipe out the educational progress made by many of the nation’s 7 million students with disabilities. That’s according to advocates, who say the extended months of learning from home and erratic attempts to reopen schools are deepening a crisis that began with the switch to distance learning in March. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Paraprofessional Jessica Wein helps Josh Nazzaro answer questions from his teacher while attending class virtually from his home in Wharton, N.J., Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. The pandemic is threatening to wipe out the educational progress made by many of the nation’s 7 million students with disabilities. That’s according to advocates, who say the extended months of learning from home and erratic attempts to reopen schools are deepening a crisis that began with the switch to distance learning in March. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
—The Associated Press
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Three ex-presidents would get vaccine publicly to boost confidence

Three former presidents say they’d be willing to take a coronavirus vaccine publicly, once one becomes available, to encourage all Americans to get inoculated against a disease that has already killed more than 273,000 people nationwide.

Former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have all indicated they would take the vaccine to bolster the public's confidence in the science of vaccines.

“I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science,” Obama added.

The overlapping sentiments by three former presidents come as the U.S. recorded more than 3,100 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring. The number of Americans hospitalized with the virus has eclipsed 100,000 for the first time, and new cases have begun topping 200,000 a day, according to figures released Thursday.

Read the story here.

—Will Weissert, The Associated Press

Justices order review of California virus rules for churches

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a lower federal court to reexamine California restrictions on indoor religious services in areas hard hit by the coronavirus in light of the justices’ recent ruling in favor of churches and synagogues in New York.

The high court’s unsigned order, with no noted dissent, leaves the California restrictions in place for now. But it throws out a federal district court ruling that rejected a challenge to the limits from Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

Last week, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in holding that New York could not enforce certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Turkey announces vaccination plan for Chinese CoronaVac

Turkey’s health minister has announced a plan to start using an experimental Chinese COVID-19 vaccine later this month amid a surge in infections and deaths.

Fahrettin Koca previously announced an agreement with China’s Sinovac Biotech for 50 million doses of CoronaVac, which is currently in late stage trials. Koca said Wednesday the first shipment of the vaccine will arrive in Turkey after Dec. 11.

In November, The Lancet published a study about the efficacy of Sinovac’s vaccine candidate based on initial clinical trials. The study said the efficacy was determined to be moderate, and that the vaccine produced lower levels of antibodies than those that have been found in recovered COVID-19 patients.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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U.S. vaccine rollout barrels on with health disparity in back seat

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine to the right people could change the course of the pandemic in the United States. But who are the right people?

A customer walks past a sign indicating that a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available at Walgreens in Long Beach, Calif.. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2020.  (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
A customer walks past a sign indicating that a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available at Walgreens in Long Beach, Calif.. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

As the decision looms for President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, a new analysis argues for targeting the first vaccines to the same low-income Black, Hispanic and Native American households that have disproportionately suffered from the coronavirus. But no one at the federal level has committed to the idea, which would be a significant shift from the current population-based method adopted by Operation Warp Speed.

“It’s not just a math problem. It’s a question of implementing a major social justice commitment,” said Harald Schmidt, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who conducted the analysis of the strategies with colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston College.

If the shots get to the right people, Schmidt argues, the benefits could extend to the entire nation: Fewer people would get sick, hospital capacity would improve and more of the economy could reopen. Lives would be saved.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Greek city to use Christmas money for more ICU beds

A child look at Christmas decoration at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, in Athens, on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Greece is on lockdown through Dec. 7 but government officials say it is too early to say when schools and businesses will reopen due to continued pressure on the state-run health service, with intensive care wards near capacity in parts of the country. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
A child look at Christmas decoration at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, in Athens, on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Greece is on lockdown through Dec. 7 but government officials say it is too early to say when schools and businesses will reopen due to continued pressure on the state-run health service, with intensive care wards near capacity in parts of the country. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A city in northern Greece hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic said Thursday it will scrap plans to set up Christmas decorations and a nativity scene this year to donate the money to the local hospital’s intensive care ward.

“We have decided to use the funds to pay for two additional ICU spaces, three medical monitors, and 1,000 protective suits for medical staff,” the mayor of Serres, Alekos Chrysafis, told The Associated Press.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Belgium looks to launch limited vaccine campaign in January

In this undated photo released by Pfizer on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, a vial of the COVID-19 candidate vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer is shown displayed at the headquarters in Puurs, Belgium.  The vaccine is awaiting approval to use against the coronavirus.  (Pfizer via AP)
In this undated photo released by Pfizer on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, a vial of the COVID-19 candidate vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer is shown displayed at the headquarters in Puurs, Belgium. The vaccine is awaiting approval to use against the coronavirus. (Pfizer via AP)

Belgium plans to launch a COVID-19 vaccination campaign on a limited scale starting in early January and initially will use the shots developed by Pfizer and BioNtech, health authorities said Thursday.

The small country with some 11.5 million inhabitants has been severely hit by the coronavirus, reporting more than 580,000 cases and nearly 17,000 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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COVID vaccine side effects are no reason to avoid the shots, doctors say

Once a coronavirus vaccine receives formal government approval, employment lawyers say it’s more likely to be treated like the flu shot, which can be mandated, even if it’s currently rare outside the health care field. A patient receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 in March  at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press)
Once a coronavirus vaccine receives formal government approval, employment lawyers say it’s more likely to be treated like the flu shot, which can be mandated, even if it’s currently rare outside the health care field. A patient receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 in March at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press)

Ahead of the anticipated distribution of Moderna’s two-dose vaccine and a similar vaccine developed by Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech, which could be coming in a matter of weeks, experts have stressed the importance of transparent messaging in ensuring wide public acceptance and completion of the vaccination regimens. Though a full detailed analysis of the safety profile of the vaccines is forthcoming and will be a topic of discussion at the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee meetings this month, the drugmakers’ disclosures about the possible side effects coupled with anecdotal reports from trial participants have prompted concern among some experts that people may be hesitant to get vaccinated or won’t come back for their second dose.

“We talk about these vaccines as being reactogenic, which is just a big word that means the way they work, you will feel that they’re working,” said Kelly Moore of the Immunization Action Coalition, who is also an external adviser for Pfizer’s vaccine effort. “So, it will give a reaction, and that reaction may be a sore arm or some redness where the injection was given. Or you may even feel flu-like, you may have a headache or body aches for a day or so, and it’s absolutely normal. There’s nothing dangerous or bad about these reactions.”

But if people aren’t properly informed, Moore and other experts anticipate that the vaccine rollouts “could indeed go very poorly.” A Pew Research Center survey conducted in September indicated that Americans are split on whether they will get vaccinated: 51% said they would “definitely or probably” get the COVID vaccine if it were available today, and 49% said they would not. Among those who said they would not, many cited concerns about side effects and uncertainty around effectiveness, according to Pew.

“If we sugarcoat it, that’s going to backfire because they’re going to get the vaccine, they’re going to feel bad, and then they’re going to say, ‘That vaccine made me sick,’ ” said Melanie Swift, an occupational medicine doctor helping to lead COVID vaccination efforts at the Mayo Clinic. Swift noted that some people have been deterred from getting flu shots because of potential side effects, which are often mild. “This is going to be more significant,” she said.

Read more about the challenges of a vaccine rollout here.

—Allyson Chiu, The Washington Post

Hackers try to penetrate the vital ‘cold chain’ for coronavirus vaccines, security team reports

A refrigerated truck drives out of the Pfizer Manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium, on Thursday. British officials on Wednesday authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, greenlighting the world’s first shot against the virus that’s backed by rigorous science and taking a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
A refrigerated truck drives out of the Pfizer Manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium, on Thursday. British officials on Wednesday authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, greenlighting the world’s first shot against the virus that’s backed by rigorous science and taking a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

LONDON — Sophisticated hackers, assumed to be state agents, have been carrying out a global phishing campaign targeting the vital “cold chain” that will protect coronavirus vaccines during storage and transport, IBM security researchers reported on Thursday.

The IBM team said the “precision targeting of executives and key global organizations hold the potential hallmarks of a nation-state tradecraft.”

The hackers took measures to hide their tracks, and the cyber-sleuths did not name which state might be behind the campaign.

Click here to read more about the attempted breaches.

—William Booth, The Washington Post

Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up

• Potato doughnuts?! Readers got so creative with the Pantry Kitchen Challenge's Thanksgiving Leftovers round that we'll be stashing their recipes for 2021. Next up: the Champions Round, with four lucky ingredients.

• Takeout food that survives the drive home: Our food critic recommends meals that won't lose their magic, even if your drive is long.

• Disappear into 10 great crime novels of 2020, including a King County investigator's stunning debut.

—Kris Higginson

Catch up on the past 24 hours

A body wrapped in plastic is loaded onto a refrigerated container truck used as a temporary morgue by medical workers due to COVID-19 deaths at Brooklyn Hospital on March 31. (John Minchillo / AP)
A body wrapped in plastic is loaded onto a refrigerated container truck used as a temporary morgue by medical workers due to COVID-19 deaths at Brooklyn Hospital on March 31. (John Minchillo / AP)

• The U.S. yesterday recorded its worst daily death toll and highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began. But for all the similarities to last spring's peak, there are profound and sobering differences. See the big picture in these graphics.

• Please stay home for the holidays — but if you must go, get tested twice, the CDC urged yesterday. And traveling to Mexico is a definite no-no, the agency said. Meanwhile, homebodies earned a heartfelt salute in today's Rant & Rave.

• Can your employer require you to get a vaccine? If it's treated like the flu shot, the simple answer is yes, but there are big caveats.

• Do as I say, not as I do: The mayor of Austin, Texas, told people to stay home. He was vacationing in Cabo at the time. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's subordinates were warned against hosting "non-mission critical events," but he'll welcome hundreds of guests at indoor holiday parties. They're far from the only politicians accused of pandemic hypocrisy.

• The couple tested positive, then boarded a flight anyway with their 4-year-old. Waiting for them at their Hawaiian destination: police in protective gear.

A New Orleans swingers convention became the latest superspreader event, with dozens testing positive despite precautions.

—Kris Higginson

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