Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, December 14, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Almost two years into the pandemic, partisan divides over how to deal with COVID-19 persist . A data report found that 72% of Americans know someone who has died of or been hospitalized with COVID-19. U.S. health officials continue to report more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths each day.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Washington are on a slow, steady decline. But health care facilities around the state are on average about 91% full with non-COVID-19 patients, causing concern over potential stresses to hospital resources under a virus case surge.

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 Washington.

Omicron spreading rapidly in U.S., could bring punishing wave as soon as January, CDC warns

Top federal health officials warned in a briefing Tuesday that the omicron variant is rapidly spreading in the United States and could peak in a massive wave of infections as soon as January, according to new modeling analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The prevalence of omicron jumped sevenfold in a single week, according to the CDC, and at such a pace, the highly mutated variant of the coronavirus could ratchet up pressure on a health system already strained in many places as the delta variant continues its own surge.

The warning of an imminent surge came even as federal officials and some pharmaceutical executives signaled that they don’t currently favor creating an omicron-specific vaccine. Based on the data so far, they say that existing vaccines plus a booster shot are an effective weapon against omicron.

The CDC briefing Tuesday detailed two scenarios for how the omicron variant may spread through the country. The worst-case scenario has spooked top health officials, who fear that a fresh wave, layered on top of delta and influenza cases in what one described as “a triple whammy,” could overwhelm health systems and devastate communities, particularly those with low vaccination rates.

Read the full story here.

— Joel Achenbach , Lena H. Sun , Laurie Mcginley and Tyler Pager, The Washington Post

Pfizer confirms COVID pill’s results, potency versus omicron

Pfizer said Tuesday that its experimental pill to treat COVID-19 appears effective against the omicron variant.

The company also said full results of its 2,250-person study confirmed the pill’s promising early results against the virus: The drug reduced combined hospitalizations and deaths by about 89% among high-risk adults when taken shortly after initial COVID-19 symptoms.

Separate laboratory testing shows the drug retains its potency against the omicron variant, the company announced, as many experts had predicted. Pfizer tested the antiviral drug against a man-made version of a key protein that omicron uses to reproduce itself.

The updates come as COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalization are all rising again and the U.S. topped 800,000 pandemic deaths. The latest surge, driven by the delta variant, is accelerating due to colder weather and more indoor gatherings, even as health officials brace for the impact of the emerging omicron mutant.

Read the full story here.

—Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press

Don’t expect new mandates as U.S. states confront omicron

In the coming weeks, scientists will have many more answers regarding omicron, the new COVID-19 variant that has quickly engulfed South Africa and spread across the globe, including the United States.

Is omicron more transmissible than delta? Does it cause more severe disease? Is it more resistant to vaccines or anti-viral treatments? Does it cause symptoms doctors haven’t seen before? Are certain people more vulnerable?

No matter the answers to those questions, there is little appetite in either red or blue states for reimposing lockdowns or mask mandates. That reluctance reflects a recognition of the public’s exhaustion after 21 months, the wide availability of vaccines and an aversion to deepening the ferocious polarization that has been the hallmark of the public health emergency.

As Dr. Karen Landers, a health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health, put it, “We may be through with COVID even if it’s not through with us.”

Read the full story here.

—Michael Ollove, Stateline.org

South Korea sets new virus record as officials plan restrictions

Halting its steps toward normalcy, South Korea will clamp down on social gatherings and cut the hours of some businesses to fight a record-breaking surge of the coronavirus that has led to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths.

Prime Minster Kim Boo-kyum confirmed the government’s intent to restore stricter social distancing measures during a virus meeting on Wednesday as the country set another new one-day record in infections with 7,850 cases, the fourth time this month the daily tally exceeded 7,000.

The country’s death toll is now 4,456 after 70 virus patients died in the past 24 hours, while a record 964 patients were in critical or serious condition. Officials previously said the country’s medical system could buckle if the number of serious cases topped 1,000 because it would greatly hamper hospitals’ ability to respond not only to COVID-19 but also to other medical conditions.

“The government sees the current virus situation as serious and plans to enforce stronger social distancing measures,” said Kim, Seoul’s No. 2 behind President Moon Jae-in. “We are considering measures that include further reducing the size of allowable social gatherings and imposing business-hour restrictions, and these steps will be confirmed and announced soon.”

Read the full story here.


US COVID death toll hits 800,000, a year into vaccine drive

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 800,000 on Tuesday, a once-unimaginable figure seen as doubly tragic, given that more than 200,000 of those lives were lost after the vaccine became available practically for the asking last spring.

The number of deaths, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Atlanta and St. Louis combined, or Minneapolis and Cleveland put together. It is roughly equivalent to how many Americans die each year from heart disease or stroke.

The United States has the highest reported toll of any country. The U.S. accounts for approximately 4% of the world’s population but about 15% of the 5.3 million known deaths from the coronavirus since the outbreak began in China two years ago.

The true death toll in the U.S. and around the world is believed to significantly higher because of cases that were overlooked or concealed.

Read the full story here.

—Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press

State health officials confirm 1,098 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,098 new coronavirus cases and 28 new deaths on Tuesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 794,878 cases and 9,608 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on weekends.

In addition, 43,904 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 60 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 177,441 COVID-19 diagnoses and 8,903 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,340,273 doses and 62.2% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 43,802 vaccine shots per day.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Amanda Zhou

The massive gap between Republicans and Democrats on vaccinating kids

One of the biggest stories of the coronavirus pandemic in 2021 is the yawning gap between red and blue. While the virus was relatively nonpartisan in its impact last year, slower vaccine uptake among Republicans and conservatives has resulted in significantly — and increasingly — worse outcomes in red areas.

The campaign to get children vaccinated is following the same pattern — only more pronounced, and in ways that portend bruising battles ahead.

New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation this week reinforces that vaccinating children against the virus remains even more split along partisan lines than vaccinations of adults.

Among adults, the foundation’s data show that 91% of Democrats have gotten at least one dose, compared to 59% of Republicans — a 32-point gap.

Read the full story here.

—Aaron Blake, The Washington Post

Dutch extend COVID lockdown; school holidays to start early

The Dutch government on Tuesday ordered elementary schools to close a week early for Christmas holidays as authorities battle to rein in coronavirus infections amid concerns about the swift spread of the new omicron variant.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte also extended the country’s existing lockdown until Jan. 14, saying the government has to be alert for the new variant.

Rutte said school holidays will be extended from two weeks to three, starting Dec. 20. Young children registered the steepest rises in infections in a recent coronavirus surge in the Netherlands.

Read the story here.

—Mike Corder, The Associated Press

Alaska health officials report state’s first omicron case

Alaska has reported its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, involving an Anchorage resident who had traveled internationally, the state health department announced.

The department, in a release, said the case was identified Monday through genomic sequencing performed at a state health laboratory.

The case involved a person who “recently tested positive in Anchorage following international travel in November,” the statement said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Nigeria to reject vaccine donations with short shelf lives

Nigeria will no longer accept COVID-19 vaccines with short shelf lives after 1 million doses have expired in Africa’s most population nation before the shots could be used, a government official said.

While some of the doses given to Nigeria were within a few months of expiring, authorities have said that other donated vaccines had just weeks left to be given to people before becoming unusable.

Faisal Shuaib, head of Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency, told reporters that expired vaccines not used in time now will be destroyed. He did not specify what Nigerian officials would consider to be too short of a shelf life.

Read the story here.

—Chinedu Asadu, The Associated Press

Person on Israeli PM’s flight from UAE tests COVID positive

A person who was on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s flight back from the United Arab Emirates has tested positive for COVID-19, the prime minister’s office said Tuesday.

Bennett returned to Israel on Monday from a historic two-day trip to the Gulf Arab state, the first by an Israeli leader to the country, which recently normalized ties with Israel.

He was in a three-day quarantine on Tuesday as per Health Ministry regulations, which require all returning travelers, even those vaccinated, to self-isolate. He was expected to take a coronavirus test on Wednesday, also in line with health regulations, and then end his quarantine if he tests negative, the prime minister’s office said.

Bennett’s office did not specify who the person was who tested positive.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pandemic-induced ‘excess savings’ are dwindling for many Americans

Infusions of government cash that warded off an economic calamity have left millions of households with bigger bank balances than before the pandemic — savings that have driven a torrent of consumer spending, helped pay off debts and, at times, reduced the urgency of job hunts.

But many low-income Americans find their savings dwindling or even depleted. And for them, the economic recovery is looking less buoyant.

Over the past 18 months or so, experts have been closely tracking the multitrillion-dollar increase in what economists call “excess savings,” generally defined as the amount by which people’s cash reserves during the COVID-19 crisis exceeded what they would have normally saved.

According to Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm, these excess savings among many working- and middle-class households could be exhausted as soon as early next year.

In April 2020, after the pandemic’s outset, the nation’s personal saving rate — the percentage of overall disposable income that goes into savings each month — jumped fourfold from its February 2020 level to 34%.

Read the story here.

—Talmon Joseph Smith, The New York Times

WHO: Africa might miss 70% vaccination goal until late 2024

The African continent might not reach the target of vaccinating 70% of its 1.3 billion population against COVID-19 until the second half of 2024, a target many of the world’s richer countries have already met, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

The warning comes as the world faces a new surge in cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant. Health officials in South Africa, which first announced the variant, say early data indicate it causes less severe illness and shorter, less intensive hospital stays. But some richer countries have rushed to allow booster vaccine doses in response, even as less than 8% of Africa’s population has received two doses.

“We will never get out of this if we don’t work together as one world,” Flavia Senkubuge, president of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa, told reporters at the WHO briefing.

Read the story here.

—Cara Anna, The Associated Press

UK calls for volunteers to battle wave of omicron infections

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is calling for thousands of volunteers to staff new vaccination centers in shopping areas, stadiums and racecourses as the government accelerates its booster program to combat the omicron coronavirus variant.

The drive comes two days after Johnson set a target of giving booster shots to all adults by the end of this year to stem the tide of omicron. U.K. health authorities say the number of omicron infections is doubling every two to three days, and the variant is now responsible for about 200,000 new cases a day.

Given the rapid spread of the omicron variant in the U.K., the British government has removed rules that barred visitors from 11 countries, mainly in southern Africa, and required returning U.K. residents to quarantine themselves in a hotel at their own expense. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said all the countries on the “red list” would be removed at 0400 GMT on Wednesday.

Read the story here.

—Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

China detects 2nd case of omicron variant

China has detected its second case of the omicron variant in a 67-year-old man who tested positive after more than two weeks of quarantine, official media reported Tuesday.

State broadcaster CCTV said the man returned from overseas on Nov. 27 and underwent two weeks of isolation, during which he repeatedly tested negative for the virus.

On Saturday, he flew to the southern city of Guangzhou where he maintains a residence and began another week of self-quarantining at home. A day later he underwent a routine test and early on Monday, the district health department informed authorities he had tested positive for the omicron variant of the virus, the station reported.

On Monday, authorities announced the first case of omicron in a person who arrived on a flight from Europe earlier this month and tested positive on Thursday while in quarantine. Poland’s Health Ministry said Tuesday the traveler was a Polish teenager who flew from Warsaw to China with her mother.

China has largely contained the spread of COVID-19 since it was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. Authorities credit a “zero tolerance” policy of strict testing, case tracing, quarantining and isolation for their success, with just 4,636 deaths from the virus officially recorded.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Greek commentator’s death puts spotlight on unvaccinated

An unvaccinated Greek commentator and publisher died of respiratory failure and resulting complications from COVID-19 on Tuesday, focusing public attention on the large number of older people in Greece who still haven’t received their shots as the country struggles with a spike in infections and deaths.

Giorgos Trangas, 71, who had diabetes, died at a state hospital in Athens after being admitted on Dec. 4 with severe breathing difficulties. He was unvaccinated, and had recently formed a small political party, “Free People,” that was critical of vaccine mandates and lockdown measures.

Trangas’ doctor, Christos Zoupas, said he had pleaded with him to get vaccinated.

“I think he thought that he would just tough it out, the way he had with so many other things in his life, as if it’s like getting the flu,” Zoupas told state-run ERT television. “I tried to persuade him to get vaccinated up until the last moment.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Omicron variant surging rapidly in Washington state, UW testing indicates

Researchers testing coronavirus samples in Washington state have recorded a rapid rise in cases with a mutation that is characteristic of the omicron variant, mirroring trends that have emerged in countries like South Africa, Britain and Denmark.

Researchers at the University of Washington found that 13% of 217 positive coronavirus case specimens collected Wednesday had the mutation. That was up from about 7% of samples they had tested from the day before, and 3% from the day before that — in a region that had its first identified cases only two weeks ago.

“It’s clearly looking like it’s rising really quickly,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, a researcher at the University of Washington.

Read the story here.

—Mike Baker, The New York Times

Air Force discharges 27 for refusal to get COVID vaccine

The Air Force has discharged 27 people for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, making them what officials believe are the first service members to be removed for disobeying the mandate to get the shots.

The Air Force gave its forces until Nov. 2 to get the vaccine, and thousands have either refused or sought an exemption. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Monday that these are the first airmen to be administratively discharged for reasons involving the vaccine.

She said all of them were in their first term of enlistment, so they were younger, lower-ranking personnel. And while the Air Force does not disclose what type of discharge a service member gets, legislation working its way through Congress limits the military to giving troops in vaccine refusal cases an honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable conditions.

Read the full story here.

S. Korea marks deadliest day of pandemic as hospitals buckle

South Korea on Tuesday marked its deadliest day of the pandemic as an unrelenting, delta-driven spread stretched thin hospitals and left people dying while waiting for beds.

Health experts warn that the country’s medical system is quickly approaching its limits and that fatalities could worsen if the government continues to be slow and hesitant in tightening social distancing.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 94 virus patients died in the past 24 hours while a record 906 were in serious or critical condition.

The 5,567 new infections were the highest yet for a Tuesday — daily tallies are usually smaller at the start of the week because of fewer tests on weekends – indicating the virus has continued to gain speed after the government moderately tightened social distancing last week.

Read the full story here.

—Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

COVID-19 cases are dropping in Washington state, but "our hospitals are bursting at the seams." Who's filling them? People who don't need hospital care, and now medical leaders are worried about what will happen if another COVID surge arrives.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill appears effective against omicron, the company said today. This pill and another made by Merck could become the first treatments for COVID that Americans could pick up at a pharmacy and take home.

Omicron is more resistant to vaccines but causes less severe illness than earlier variants, according to the first major private study on it. Researchers also provided a clearer look at what happens to people who are infected.

Serving alcohol is now illegal in one country that's racing to stem the spread of omicron. But don't expect new mandates and closures in the U.S., which is down to just a handful of states that require masks inside public places.

“This is not how I wanted to learn the Greek alphabet,” but here we are, becoming experts on the millennia-spanning marvel as coronavirus variants multiply. Looking ahead, though, scientists and linguists see a problem.

—Kris Higginson