Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Sunday, Dec. 27, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
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.
Wars, instability pose vaccine challenges in poor nations
Arifullah Khan had just administered another polio vaccine when the gunfire blasted from the nearby hills.
“It happened so suddenly. There was so much gunfire it felt like an explosion,” he said, recalling details of the attack five years ago in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal region near the Afghan border.
In Pakistan, delivering vaccines can be deadly. More than 100 health workers, vaccinators and security officials involved in polio vaccination have been killed since 2012.
The violence is an extreme example of the difficulties many poor and developing countries face as they tackle the monumental task of vaccinating their populations against COVID-19.
It’s not just the problem of affording vaccines or being at the back of the line behind wealthy countries in receiving them.
Poor infrastructure often means roads are treacherous and electricity is sporadic for the refrigerators vital to preserving vaccines. Wars and insurgencies endanger vaccinators. Corruption can siphon away funds, and vaccination campaign planners must sometimes navigate through multiple armed factions.
Read the full story here.
Hospital laundry workers fear their infection risk is rising
Workers at a leading commercial laundry firm that cleans sheets for some of New York City’s biggest hospitals say every day on the job places them at greater risk of covid-19 infection.
Industry CEOs from all over the U.S. voiced concern earlier this month about potential outbreaks, too. As a critical component of a health care system buckling under the strain of a nationwide surge, commercial laundry companies have become essential in the fight against the pandemic.
But their employees’ unions contend that while some operators have taken adequate measures to protect workers, others have not.
“Some of my representatives walk in to inspect, and hand sanitizer stations are empty. Workers are typically inches away from each other,” said Richard Minter, assistant manager at Philadelphia Joint Board Workers United. Unions complain that access to masks or gloves can be limited, leaving it to employees who make little more than minimum wage to buy their own.
Read the full story here.
Here's what's in the federal pandemic relief package
The massive, year-end catchall bill that President Donald Trump signed into law combines $900 billion in COVID-19 aid with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and reams of other unfinished legislation on taxes, energy, education and health care.
Here are some of the measures included in the package and how much each received in funding:
- Federal unemployment benefits, $120 billion. Benefits will resume through March 14, but at $300 per week instead of the earlier $600 per week.
- Direct payments, $166 billion. Individuals making up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 per year will receive $600, with additional $600 payments per dependent child.
- Paycheck Protection Program, $284 billion. Provides forgivable loans to qualified businesses. Especially hard-hit businesses that received PPP grants would be eligible for a second round.
- Schools and universities, $82 billion.
- Vaccines and treatments, more than $30 billion.
- Rental assistance, $25 billion. Funds from the first-ever federal rental assistance program will be distributed by state and local governments.
Read the full story here.
Tribes try to shield elders and their knowledge from virus
As Monica Harvey watched, crowds flocked to a Sam’s Club in northern Arizona where she works, picking shelves clean of toilet paper and canned goods. Native American seniors couldn’t move fast enough, and Harvey saw their faces fall when they reached empty shelves.
The Navajo woman wanted to help tribal elders get household staples without leaving their homes and risking exposure to COVID-19, so she started Defend Our Community, a group that delivers supplies.
Tribes across the nation are working to protect elder members who serve as honored links to customs passed from one generation to the next. The efforts to deliver protective gear, meals and vaccines are about more than saving lives. Tribal elders often possess unique knowledge of language and history that is all the more valuable because tribes commonly pass down their traditions orally. That means losing elders to the virus could wipe out irreplaceable pieces of culture.
“When you lose an elder, you lose a part of yourself,” said Harvey, who lives in Leupp, Arizona, east of Flagstaff. “You lose a connection to history, our stories, our culture, our traditions.”
Read the full story here.
As more Washingtonians head outdoors this winter, experts urge caution
There’s no better time than the darkest days of 2020 to lace up your boots, strap on snowshoes or skis, throw your gear in a toboggan and start an adventure — as it turns out, a lot of people in Washington have had that idea.
Meryl Lassen, a communications consultant with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, says people are heading into the wilderness in unprecedented numbers this winter.
“REI and all the retailers are reporting that sales of winter equipment are skyrocketing this year,” Lassen said. “And we’re seeing it in our Sno-Park permit sales. I mean we’re up by over 100% in some cases.”
For those who like to camp during the warmer months of the year, it might sound like a way to forget your worries in this stressful pandemic year. But stop, wait, think: You can’t just throw stuff in the car and head out.
“A lot of these folks are kind of COVID refugees where they’re trying to find something to do where they’re going to be fairly safe,” Lassen said. “And maybe they learned from summer hiking that they really like the outdoors and they want to try it in the winter. But it is a whole different ballgame.”
Read more about safely recreating outdoors in the winter here.
‘Always there’: COVID-19 won’t break the bond between this Seattle teen and his Big Brother
Online school is not easy for anybody.
Online school is a lot tougher when you live in a small house with five brothers and a mom who works two jobs.
“I don’t like it,” says Zech Hipp, a 15-year-old sophomore at Franklin High School in Seattle. He’s almost wistful as he thinks of all the years he spent complaining about regular school. “I wish I hadn’t said that stuff.”
One saving grace: Zech’s “Big Brother,” Owen Kim, a software developer who’s been available — by phone, by Zoom, by text, whatever — to offer instruction, guidance or just commiseration.
Kim, 33, was matched with Zech through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, one of 12 local nonprofits boosted by reader donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
Owen and Zech have been Big Brother and Little Brother for four years. For more than three years, they met pretty much every week, at least. That was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Big Brothers Big Sisters has asked for all Big-Little relationships to go entirely virtual, to stem the spread of the virus.
But their relationship has continued. If anything, their contact is more frequent now, even if it’s not in person.
1 of every 17 people in the U.S. has been infected, experts say post-holiday surge possible
With bubble-enclosed Santas and Zoom-enhanced family gatherings, much of the United States played it safe over Christmas while the coronavirus rampaged across the country.
But a significant number of Americans traveled, and uncounted gatherings took place, as they will over the New Year’s holiday. That, according to the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, could mean new spikes in cases on top of the existing surge.
“We very well might see a post-seasonal — in the sense of Christmas, New Year’s — surge,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
U.S. case numbers are about as high as they have ever been. Total infections surpassed 19 million Saturday, meaning that at least 1 in 17 people have contracted the virus over the course of the pandemic. And the virus has killed more than 332,000 people — 1 in every 1,000 in the country.
Two of the year’s worst days for deaths have been during the past week. And hospitalizations are hovering at a pandemic height of about 120,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Read the full story here.
An attorney who defends Washington students with disabilities offers advice for parents navigating the pandemic
Education attorney Shannon McMinimee has a rare, 30,000-foot view of Washington state’s school system.
Splitting her time between Seattle and her hometown in the Yakima Valley, McMinimee has spent the past nine months trying to negotiate services for children with disabilities in urban and rural districts with widely varying policies on reopening. Since last spring, she’s filed approximately a dozen legal challenges against school districts for failing to provide accommodations for students.
In some cases, she’s had to fight for in-person instruction, and in others, she’s had to defend medically vulnerable kids’ rights to learn from home.
Last week, McMinimee shared advice for families of students with disabilities who may be struggling to navigate school during the pandemic.
Read the interview here.
Thousands of health care workers have died of COVID-19 in the U.S.
Ten months into the pandemic, it has become far clearer why tens of thousands of health care workers have been infected by the virus and why so many have died: dire PPE shortages. Limited COVID-19 tests. Sparse tracking of viral spread. Layers of flawed policies handed down by health care executives and politicians, and lax enforcement by government regulators.
All of those breakdowns, across cities and states, have contributed to the deaths of more than 2,900 health care workers, a nine-month investigation by over 70 reporters at Kaiser Health News and The Guardian has found. This number is far higher than that reported by the U.S. government, which does not have a comprehensive national count of health care workers who’ve died of COVID-19.
The fatalities have skewed young, with the majority of victims under age 60 in the cases for which there is age data. People of color have been disproportionately affected.
Many of the deaths occurred in New York and New Jersey, and significant numbers also died in Southern and Western states as the pandemic wore on.
Workers at well-funded academic medical centers — hubs of policymaking clout and prestigious research — were largely spared. Those who died tended to work in less prestigious community hospitals, nursing homes and other health centers in roles in which access to critical information was low and patient contact was high.
Read the full story here.
Trump signs massive funding bill, averts shutdown
President Donald Trump has signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals.
A congressional Republican aide told The Associated Press that the president signed the measure. The aide was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity.
(The Washington Post also reported that Trump signed the bill, after speaking to three sources briefed on his decision.)
The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems and an increase in food stamp benefits.
Democrats are promising more aid to come once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signaling a wait-and-see approach.
Read the full story here.
The stories of these 8 Seattleites show the extent of the chaos we experienced in 2020
You don’t need us to tell you 2020 was a surprise: a deadly pandemic, massive protests, economic upheaval, white-knuckle elections, an impeachment, wildfires, smoke for days, murder hornets. You know.
We met many, many people — nurses fighting the dual pandemics of COVID and institutional racism, newlyweds on different continents separated by lockdowns, activists suspended between the chaos and promise of CHOP, new parents raising babies in isolation — who shared nuanced, often painful accounts of how their lives were upended.
As the year ends, we’ve caught up with a few to ask how 2020 looked through their eyes.
Read their stories here.
Here’s what happens if Trump doesn’t sign stimulus deal by midnight Monday
Millions of Americans are days away from losing federal unemployment payments, housing assistance and other critical coronavirus aid, if President Donald Trump continues to reject a $900 billion congressional stimulus deal.
The programs – adopted at the start of the still-worsening pandemic – have helped people purchase groceries, pay their bills, stay current on their rents and mortgages and take sick leave over the past nine months. All are set to expire this week if Trump does not sign the bipartisan aid bill that his own administration helped negotiate.
On Sunday afternoon, Trump tweeted that there was "good news" regarding the bill but did not provide specifics.
Even if the bill is signed this week, Americans will likely miss out on some help because of the delay, including a week's worth of unemployment benefits.
Read more about what will happen if the bill isn't signed here.
US taking hard look at variant of coronavirus
U.S. health officials believe the coronavirus mutation that set off alarms in parts of Britain is no more apt to cause serious illness or be resistant to vaccines than the strain afflicting people in the United States but it still must be taken “very seriously,” the government’s top infectious disease expert said Sunday.
“Does it make someone more ill? Is it more serious virus in the sense of virulence? And the answer is, it doesn’t appear to be that way,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN's "State of the Union."
British officials are telling their U.S. colleagues it appears that the vaccines being rolled out will be strong enough to deal with the new variant but, Fauci said, “we’re going to be doing the studies ourselves.”
Read the full story here.
Washington steps in with one-time payment for 95,000 as federal unemployment assistance lapses
With federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) lapsing Saturday, Washington state is stepping in with a one-time payment to nearly 95,000 people who had been receiving the benefit.
President Donald Trump has so far refused to sign a $2.3 trillion funding package which includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief that would, among other things, extend PUA to March 14.
The PUA program expanded unemployment benefits to people who are not usually eligible for unemployment insurance, such as part-time, contract, freelance and self-employed workers, and people who can’t work because they lost child care, are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 or are caring for someone who is sick.
The Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) said it would begin to issue the one-time payments Wednesday.
Inslee authorized the use of some $54 million in federal funding from the CARES Act — the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed in March — for what the state is calling the Pandemic Relief Payment (PRP) Program.
Read more about it here.
Women’s prison in Alaska reports 109-person outbreak
A women’s prison in Alaska that had just three confirmed coronavirus cases last week says it now has more than 100 cases.
The Hiland Mountain Correctional Center reported 109 active cases of the virus on Monday. The state Department of Corrections said the prison can house about 400 inmates.
Randy McLellan, a correctional officer at the prison, said the prison has been on lockdown since the new cases were reported.
“They get no visitors," McLellan said. "They’re essentially cut off from everything because of this outbreak. And it’s very unfortunate.”
Three of the state’s 12 prisons now have more than 100 active coronavirus cases.
Read the full story here.
British Columbia identifies first case of more virulent coronavirus variant
The first case of a more virulent coronavirus variant has been identified in a person in British Columbia who had been in the United Kingdom, health officials said Sunday.
An individual who lives in British Columbia's Island Health region, encompassing the southwestern portion of the province and Vancouver Island, returned to the Canadian province from the U.K. on Air Canada flight 855 on Dec. 15, five days before a national ban on travel from the U.K.
The individual developed symptoms in quarantine — Canada has required international travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days, enforceable with heavy fines and imprisonment, since March — and tested positive on Dec. 19.
The BC Centre for Disease Control Public Health Laboratory is reviewing the results of people who have traveled to the U.K., where the more virulent variant accounts for the majority of new cases in some areas such as London.
"Whole genome sequencing at the BCCDC identified this as the same as the variant seen in the U.K.," Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, said in a joint statement Sunday afternoon. "Ongoing review may identify additional cases in the coming days."
They noted that no evidence suggests the new variant COVID-19 strain causes more severe illness or resistant to vaccines.
Still more questions than answers about 'COVID-19 long-haulers'
As coronavirus infections and the COVID-19 death toll continue to climb, the number of people with less-severe though still life disrupting illness climbs, too.
So-called COVID-19 long-haulers — people who can't seem to shake the disease for months on end — often experience a range of symptoms that may come and go in cycles, but commonly include a crippling fatigue that one woman described as akin to depression.
There are still more questions than answers about COVID-19 long-haulers, as is the case with so much about the pandemic.
Boeing, reputation tarnished, navigates an aviation market downsized by the pandemic
The director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on air travel “the greatest deconnecting of the world since the Second World War.”
The pandemic has only compounded problems at Boeing, which enters 2021 with a reputation tarnished by the 737 MAX crisis and a shrunken commercial jet business.
The implications for the Pacific Northwest and its aviation work force are profound.
Read more about Boeing's path forward here.
In California fears of a post-holidays surge
The U.S. passed 19 million COVID-19 cases on Saturday and public health officials fear the worst is still ahead with another surge expected after the holidays.
In California, UCLA epidemiologist Dr. Robert Kim-Farley warned of a "viral wildfire" spreading in the weeks ahead, stemming from asymptomatic transmission that may occur at holiday gatherings.
One in 95 in Los Angeles County are contagious with the virus, according to county estimates. The disease is killing residents at a faster pace than ever before -- one every 10 minutes.
Across the state, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths on Christmas were about triple what they were on Thanksgiving.
With hospital capacity already stretched to the limit, doctors warn that the quality of care for people with COVID-19, and others suffering traumas, could decline.
Read more about the situation in California here.
EU begins vaccination program amid supply concerns and frustrations
Despite being developed in Germany and funded by the German federal government, Europeans watched as people in the United States, United Kingdom, Israel and the United Arab Emirates get the first doses of the Pfizer and BioNtech coronavirus vaccine.
That frustration, and concerns about adequate supplies, hung in the background as the European Union began a massive vaccination program Sunday. The 27-country block has ordered more than 2 billion doses.
“Today is a beautiful, symbolic day,” Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s emergency coronavirus commissioner told reporters outside the Spallanzani hospital in Rome, according to the Associated Press. “All the citizens of Europe together are starting to get their vaccinations, the first ray of light after a long night.”
Read more about the E.U. vaccine rollout here.
Are algorithms used in vaccine prioritization decisions trustworthy?
Local governments and workplaces are using algorithms and other scoring systems to decide who gets the coronavirus vaccine first. But these approaches, like other algorithmic scoring systems, are fraught.
The algorithms, in general, are much simpler than those underpinning many online services. They are a reflection of human decision-making and prioritization, which itself has sometimes been opaque and subject to bias.
Algorithm designers worry that casting blame on what in fact are mathematical formulas created by human beings will feed public distrust of the vaccines’ rollout.
Read more about how algorithms are being used in the vaccine rollout here.
Catch up on the last 24 hours
Here are some top stories on the global pandemic from the last 24 hours:
Many masked faces, and many not, empty store shelves, markets and airport terminals, healthcare workers, remote learning and much more — see all The Seattle Times Pictures of the Year, right here.
Despite travel restrictions, the more-infectious coronavirus variant continues to spread to more countries, including Canada, Japan, Australia and Lebanon, and several European categories.
Recent polls suggest more people are willing to be vaccinated against the coronavirus now that vaccines are available. Various polls found more than 60% of people say they are now likely or certain to take the vaccine, up from about 50% this summer.
Cruise ships, including many from Seattle-based Holland America, were expected in San Diego starting this month, but not to resume carrying passengers. Rather they are beginning preparations to resume service, after a nine-month hiatus, sometime next year. For one thing, crews need to be tested for coronavirus.
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