Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Dec. 2, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to nail down its coronavirus vaccine plan, and on Tuesday announced health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities should receive the first doses of vaccines.

A senior CDC official also confirmed Tuesday the agency is planning to shorten the recommended length of quarantine after exposure to the virus, settling on seven to 10 days depending on if they receive a negative test result.

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.


Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Next for Biden: Naming a health care team as pandemic rages

WASHINGTON — 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 one prominent candidate to lead the Department of Health and Human Services has faded from the scene. New Mexico Democratic 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 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 individual 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.

Alongside his health secretary, Biden is expected to name a top-level White House adviser to coordinate the government’s extensive coronavirus response. 

—Associated Press
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China testing blunders stemmed from secret deals with firms

WUHAN, China — In the early days in Wuhan, the first city first struck by the virus, getting a COVID test was so difficult that residents compared it to winning the lottery.

The widespread test shortages and problems at a time when the virus could have been slowed were caused largely by secrecy and cronyism at China’s top disease control agency, an Associated Press investigation has found.

The flawed testing system prevented scientists and officials from seeing how fast the virus was spreading — another way China fumbled its early response to the virus. Earlier AP reporting showed how top Chinese leaders delayed warning the public and withheld information from the World Health Organization, supplying the most comprehensive picture yet of China’s initial missteps. Taken together, these mistakes in January facilitated the virus’ spread through Wuhan and across the world undetected, in a pandemic that has now sickened more than 64 million people and killed almost 1.5 million.

China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention gave test kit designs and distribution rights exclusively to three then-obscure Shanghai companies with which officials had personal ties, the reporting found. The deals took place within a culture of backdoor connections that quietly flourished in an underfunded public health system, according to the investigation, which was based on interviews with more than 40 doctors, CDC employees, health experts, and industry insiders, as well as hundreds of internal documents, contracts, messages and emails obtained by the AP.

The Shanghai companies — GeneoDx Biotech, Huirui Biotechnology, and BioGerm Medical Technology — paid the China CDC for the information and the distribution rights, according to two sources with knowledge of the transaction who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retribution. The price: One million RMB ($146,600) each, the sources said. It’s unclear whether the money went to specific individuals.

—Associated Press

Many coronavirus trial volunteers got placebo vaccines; do they now deserve real ones?

As state and federal governments prepare to distribute the first coronavirus vaccines to health care workers and nursing home residents this month, the tens of thousands of people who received placebo shots in trials have become the subject of a thorny debate among experts.

Some scientists agree that if someone received a placebo, they should be moved toward the front of the line in exchange for their service for the greater good.

“I think probably we owe them, as a consequence of their participation in the trial, some special priority in terms of access to the vaccine,” Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said at a meeting in July.

But on Wednesday, 18 leading vaccine experts — including a top regulator at the Food and Drug Administration — argued that vaccinating placebo groups early would be disastrous for the integrity of the trials. If all of the volunteers who received placebo shots were to suddenly get vaccinated, scientists would no longer be able to compare the health of those who were vaccinated with those who were not.

—The New York Times

‘It’s terrible, because it was avoidable’: U.S. COVID deaths top spring peak

The United States on Wednesday recorded its single-worst daily death toll since the pandemic began, and on a day when COVID-19 hospitalizations also hit an all-time high, the pace of loss showed no signs of slowing any time soon.

Not since spring, during the pandemic’s first peak, were so many deaths reported. The high point then was 2,752 deaths on April 15. On Wednesday, it was at least 2,760.

Hospitalizations from the virus topped 100,000 — more than double the number at the beginning of November. That is a clear indicator of what the days ahead may look like, experts say.

“If you tell me the hospitalizations are up this week, I’ll tell you that several weeks down the road, the deaths will be up,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

And as staggering as it is, the death toll reported Wednesday appears likely only to worsen, experts say, as the delayed effects of Thanksgiving travel are felt. And many Americans are now weighing how to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.

—The New York Times
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South Korean students take exams amid viral spike

SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 35 confirmed COVID-19 patients, took the highly competitive university entrance exam Thursday despite a viral resurgence that forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules.

The Education Ministry said about 493,430 students were taking the one-day exam at about 1,380 sites across the nation. They include hospitals and other medical facilities with the 35 virus patients and hundreds of others placed under self-quarantine.

This year’s exams had been originally scheduled for November but were delayed due to the virus outbreak.

South Korea on Thursday reported 540 new cases. Last week it reimposed stringent distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area and other places to try to suppress a spike in new infections.

—Associated Press

Seattle minor-league baseball owners still standing after facing COVID-19 shutdown and possible contraction

When last we left Peter Davis, the 70-year-old Seattle man who fulfilled a lifetime dream in 2019 by purchasing a minor-league baseball team — the Missoula PaddleHeads of the short-season Pioneer League — he was sweating out a two-pronged crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic had wiped out the 2020 minor-league season, leading to grave financial losses across the industry. And on a more existential level, the future of the Pioneer League, and by extension the PaddleHeads, was in limbo because of Major League Baseball’s plan to reorganize the minor leagues — and cut out 43 affiliated teams.

“My happy place is in a baseball stadium,” Davis said in June, when I told his story in a column. “So then you finally get this dream, and a year later you get kneecapped.”

I’m happy to report that some six months later, Davis is back in a happy place — literally and figuratively. When I talked to him Wednesday, he was in Missoula, Montana, enthusiastically planning for a 2021 season that finally is taking shape.

Read the full column here.

—Larry Stone

Gloria Estefan reveals she caught COVID-19, is now recovered

MIAMI — Singer and businesswoman Gloria Estefan said on Wednesday that she spent much of November in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, days after dining outdoors at a Miami-area restaurant.

Estefan, 63, says she was fortunate, enduring only “a little bit of a cough” and dehydration after losing her sense of smell and taste, and has tested negative twice since recovering.

In a video shared on Instagram, the Cuban-born “Conga” singer says she was infected despite rigorously following public health protocols, and speculates that she could have been exposed by a fan who was not wearing a mask. The fan tapped on her shoulder and got very close to talk to her as she was dining with three family members, Estefan said.

“I was very lucky, but I just wanted to share with you that I was in quarantine, and one day I went out and met with one person who was not wearing a mask. I even held my breath through their talk, but something must have happened there,” she said.

Estefan said she learned she had been infected after losing her sense of taste in early November, and then spent two weeks in total isolation on the second floor of her home. 

—Associated Press
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48 NBA players positive for coronavirus as testing resumes

NEW YORK — The NBA said Wednesday that 48 players have tested positive for the coronavirus since testing resumed last week.

The league and National Basketball Players Association said 546 players were tested between Nov. 24-30 in the initial phase of testing after returning to team markets. That means about 9% of the tests were positive.

Any player with a confirmed positive test is isolated until cleared by rules established by the league and union, in accordance with CDC guidance. The league’s health and safety protocols for this season say that anyone with a positive test in this pre-camp phase “must receive medical clearance from a team-designated physician and a league-designated physician prior to entering a team facility, participating in in-person team-organized activities, or interacting in-person with other” members of their team.

The league, in its preseason guidance to teams sent late last week, made clear that some players testing positive was to be expected.

“During this pandemic, all this stuff is going to be different this season,” Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic said Tuesday. “Some players might get corona, get sick, not be able to be with the team for 10 days. So, I think that’s going to be a big part — which team is not going to have positive people. It’s going to be a lot of time together. I think that’s going to be key.”

Nobody is going to conventions, but convention centers are growing anyway

After 20 years of trying, Indianapolis finally landed the American Dental Association convention. In December 2019, the group agreed to gather there in 2026, promising Indianapolis tens of thousands of visitors and tens of millions of dollars for the local economy.

But there’s a catch: The dentists can back out if the convention center complex does not complete a $550 million expansion: 143,500 square feet of new event and ballroom space as well as two privately financed hotels.

That helps explain why, in the depths of a pandemic that has left many convention centers empty or repurposed into field hospitals or homeless shelters, a 25-member board in Indianapolis voted unanimously in September to add up to $155 million to the public debt.

For decades, cities large and small have turned to gleaming convention centers and cavernous expo halls to revitalize downtown neighborhoods and perk up local economies. The pitch sounds like a win-win: Conventioneers — often traveling on the company dime — will fill hotels, pack restaurants and spend in stores. And the debt taken out to finance construction can be repaid with taxes targeted at the travelers, so locals don’t have to foot the bill.

To keep its slate of shows — and steal others from rival cites — a convention center must frequently upgrade, expand or remodel. And the arms race keeps accelerating, even with most experts predicting that it could be at least two more years before attendance fully bounces back from the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

COVID-19 outbreak at employment department slows operations

SALEM, Ore. — An 11-person COVID-19 outbreak at the Wilsonville office of the Oregon Employment Department will likely cause further delays in handling claims, officials said.

The outbreak “will cause real disruptions in our ability to get work at the pace we have been,” said David Gerstenfeld, acting director of the department, which has been dealing with backlog.

Officials at the state agency said many of the office’s 600 employees will soon work from home.

Gerstenfeld said health authorities have not advised the office to close, but Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 safety orders require employers to allow work-from-home options when possible.

Gerstenfeld the department has made significant progress in enabling remote work and safety protocols. He expects hundreds of Wilsonville employees to work from home in the future, however some can’t because they lack adequate internet service.

—Associated Press
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Employers start preparing for the coronavirus vaccine with a question: Can we require it?

As news of promising progress on coronavirus vaccines has filled the headlines in recent weeks, labor lawyers say employers have been pressing one question in particular: Once approved, can they require employees to take it?

“Until maybe about a month ago, we hadn’t had many clients asking about it,” said Brett Coburn, a labor and employment partner with Alston & Bird. “We’re starting to see a lot more momentum.”

The news that a coronavirus vaccine could start being distributed within the next few weeks has sent stocks soaring and government officials scrambling to develop plans for the herculean task of distributing it across the country.

For employers, many of which have kept workers home for months, it has opened a complex set of legal and practical issues: Can they require employees to take a vaccine? Should they offer incentives instead to encourage compliance? And what should they do if employees resist?

It will likely be months before anyone besides health care and other essential workers have access to the vaccine. On Tuesday, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said health care workers and long-term care residents and staff should get top priority for the vaccine.

—The Washington Post

Moderna plans to begin testing its coronavirus vaccine in children

Drugmaker Moderna said Wednesday that it would soon begin testing its coronavirus vaccine in children ages 12 to 17. The study, listed Wednesday on the website clinicaltrials.gov, is to include 3,000 children, with half receiving two shots of vaccine four weeks apart, and half getting placebo shots of saltwater.

But the posting says the study is “not yet recruiting,” and Colleen Hussey, a spokeswoman for Moderna, said it was not certain when the testing sites would be listed or start accepting volunteers. A link on the website to test centers is not yet working, and Hussey said she was not sure when it would become active.

Moderna announced Monday that data from its study in 30,000 adults had found its vaccine to be 94.1% effective and that it had applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization to begin vaccinating adults. If approval is granted, certain groups of high-risk adults, including people in nursing homes, could receive shots late in December.

But no vaccine can be widely given to children until it has been tested in them. 

—The New York Times

Hawaii’s new remote-work program will cover your airfare in exchange for volunteering

While you might be eyeing remote-work visas abroad as a way to travel internationally again, Hawaii just created a long-term-stay program for U.S. residents to get away from the mainland.

Movers & Shakas, a state- and company-funded program, will provide airfare to Oahu to 50 out-of-staters willing to spend at least a month in Hawaii volunteering with nonprofits. The program begins Dec. 15.

A spokesperson for the program said that depending on how the Oahu pilot program goes, future volunteering remote workers heading to other islands could be eligible for the free roundtrip airfare.

Participants will “need to give a few hours [per] week to a nonprofit that fits their skillset,” a spokesperson for the program said in an email. In exchange, the remote workers will also get exclusive access to deals at local-run hotels and restaurants.

The agreement aims to alleviate the strain tourism-dependent businesses in the state are seeing during the pandemic.

Visitors to Hawaii must obtain a negative coronavirus test from an approved lab within 72 hours of their arrival in the state or quarantine for 14 days.

—The Washington Post
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State confirms 170,342 total COVID-19 cases in Washington

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,126 new COVID-19 cases as of Monday, and 45 new deaths.

In King County, the state’s most populous, 630 new cases were reported, along with 10 new deaths.

The update brings the state’s totals to 170,342 cases and 2,850 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. Tuesday. 

The DOH also reported that 10,954 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus.

In King County, state health officials have confirmed a total of 45,757 COVID-19 diagnoses and 897 deaths.

—Brendan Kiley

Fed and Treasury urge Congress to approve more virus relief

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell fist bumps Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged Congress to approve COVID-19 relief funds without further delay, though Democrats continued to attack a decision by Mnuchin to allow five Fed lending programs to expire during the pandemic.

In his most direct comments so far, Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday that it’s “very important” for Congress to provide economic support.

New funding would serve as a “bridge” for the economy to get from the current environment in which virus infections are spiking, to next year when vaccines should be widely available, Powell said.

“We are trying to get as many people across that bridge as we can,” Powell said.

Without more assistance, Powell said, people will lose their homes and small businesses will fail. “You could lose parts of the economy,” which would slow any recovery next year, he said.

“We are hearing from all over that small businesses are really under pressure,” Powell told lawmakers.

For a second day a number of Democratic lawmakers on the committee challenged Mnuchin’s decision to allow five Fed lending programs to expire at the end of this year, contending that his reading of the law was incorrect. They say it’s a political maneuver to hobble the incoming Biden administration financially.

Read the story here.

—Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press

Rural Virginia county rejects ‘tyranny’ of state COVID-19 restrictions

RUSTBURG, Va. — Nearly 100 people gathered in the Campbell County Board of Supervisors chamber outside Lynchburg this week, took off their face coverings and applauded an official resolution rejecting Gov. Ralph Northam’s coronavirus restrictions.

“Free people have a duty to push back against these restrictions,” County Supervisor Charlie A. Watts II said during the Tuesday night hearing. Northam’s executive orders mandating the wearing of masks during the deadly pandemic, ordering restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. and limiting public gatherings to 25 people or fewer are “simply not the role of government in a free society,” Watts said.

The board in this deeply red county then voted unanimously in favor of a resolution declaring Campbell a “First Amendment sanctuary” — referring to the Bill of Rights guarantee of the freedom of assembly — and ordering local authorities not to enforce the Democratic governor’s mandates.

Campbell became the first Virginia locality to pass what some call a “nullify Northam” measure, but the idea is sweeping rural governments the way the “Second Amendment sanctuary” movement against gun control spread a year ago. Nearby Bedford considered a resolution last week that would have punished officials who tried to enforce the restrictions, including withholding funding from the sheriff and ordering the arrest of state agents.

Read the full story here.

—Gregory S. Schneider, The Washington Post
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Restaurant jaunts create credibility issue for politicians

Their messaging has been clear: wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart from others, and most importantly: stay home!

But their actions aren’t living up to the rhetoric, creating a real political problem for some of the most vocal leaders in California’s fight to contain the coronavirus.

First came Gov. Gavin Newsom, who won plaudits for issuing the first statewide stay-at-home order in the U.S. back in March. He broke the state rules when he and his wife were caught dining with 10 others at the posh French Laundry restaurant in Napa in early November with lobbyists and others from numerous different households, sitting close together, mask-less.

San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, was at the same $350-a-plate restaurant a day later, dining with a San Francisco socialite and six others. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Tuesday fessed up to an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner at his parents’ home with people from five different households after tweeting that everyone should just stay home this Thanksgiving. And a Los Angeles County supervisor headed to dinner at an outdoor restaurant hours after she voted to ban outdoor dining, calling it “a most dangerous situation.”

“We’re all really feeling the strain of this, but there is really that element of hypocrisy. So many who are struggling right now, and then you see them going to these very fancy social affairs and mixing with folks outside their immediate bubble,” said Melinda Jackson, a political science professor at San Jose State University.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Nurses wanted: Swamped hospitals scramble for pandemic help

U.S. hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients are trying to lure nurses and doctors out of retirement, recruiting students and new graduates who have yet to earn their licenses and offering eye-popping salaries in a desperate bid to ease staffing shortages.

With the virus surging from coast to coast, the number of patients in the hospital with the virus has more than doubled over the past month to a record high of nearly 100,000, pushing medical centers and health care workers to the breaking point.

“Nurses are under immense pressure right now,” said Kendra McMillan, a senior policy adviser for the American Nurses Association. “We’ve heard from nurses on the front lines who say they’ve never experienced the level of burnout we’re seeing right now.”

Governors in hard-hit states like Wisconsin and Nebraska are making it easier for retired nurses to come back, including by waiving licensing requirements and fees, though it can be a tough sell for older nurses, who would be in more danger than many of their colleagues if they contracted the virus.

Hospitals also are turning to contract nurses who often travel from other states. But it’s expensive, because hospitals around the country are competing for the same pool of nurses, driving salaries as high as $6,200 per week, according to posts for travel nursing jobs.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

New Orleans swingers event becomes ‘superspreader’ after 41 test positive for coronavirus

Street performer Eddie Webb looks around the nearly deserted French Quarter in New Orleans in March. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file)

With no dance floor and strict, new coronavirus guidelines, attendees at the 2020 Naughty N’awlins swingers convention swayed in place at their tables and flirted behind face masks from a distance.

After being tested for coronavirus and agreeing to wear masks, about 250 people checked into a New Orleans hotel for the swingers convention on Nov. 14 to reconnect a community separated by the pandemic.

A little more than two weeks later, 41 attendees have tested positive for the virus, according to the event’s organizer, in an outbreak that led local officials to call the convention a “superspreader event.”

“I wouldn’t do it again if I knew then what I know now,” event organizer Bob Hannaford said in a recent blog post detailing the safety failures that led to the outbreak. “It weighs on me and it will continue to weigh on me until everyone is 100% better.”

The city did not require a permit for the annual swingers convention, which was a little more than a tenth of its usual size this year because of the pandemic. The event’s organizers said they met with city officials before the convention to discuss safety measures to avoid spreading the virus among attendees.

Read more here.

—Katie Shepherd, The Washington Post
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Vaccine 1st puts spotlight on German pharma company BioNTech

The email that arrived in the ancient German city of Mainz shortly before 1 a.m. in the morning marked a turning point in the global effort to deliver a reliable vaccine against the coronavirus pandemic – and for the little-known biotechnology company that helped develop it.

BioNTech has at times been portrayed as the junior partner in U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s race to get approval for the COVID vaccine a pandemic-weary world is desperately waiting for. In fact, the company’s use of gene technology to beat the virus was key to the rapid development of the vaccine that British regulators OK’d for emergency use early Wednesday.

Founded twelve years ago, BioNTech specializes in harnessing so-called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to train the immune system to attack hostile invaders, from viruses to tumors. Until now, the technology had never been approved for a drug in humans, but the company’s founders said they immediately saw the potential when the virus first emerged early this year.

“We have technologies in place which allow us to make vaccines and evaluate candidates in an ultra-fast fashion,” BioNTech’s Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

He immediately reached out to Pfizer and the two companies began working together even before commercial contracts had been signed, racing rivals such as Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Moderna to become the first to get emergency authorization for a COVID vaccine.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Why the U.K. approved a vaccine first

LONDON — The first rigorously tested coronavirus vaccine was given a green light for use Wednesday in Britain. Doses of the vaccine, made by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and a small German company, BioNTech, will be injected starting next week, the government said.

Why did Britain authorize a vaccine before the U.S.?

The two countries vet vaccines differently. While U.S. regulators pore over raw data from vaccine makers to validate their results, their counterparts in Britain and elsewhere lean more heavily on companies’ own analyses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also consults an outside panel of experts before it decides. In the case of Pfizer’s vaccine, that panel will meet Dec. 10. British regulators seek opinions from a specialist committee, too, but that group has the flexibility to review data and meet as it needs to. In all, the committee met for more than 40 hours about the Pfizer vaccine, its chairman said Wednesday.

Like U.S. regulators, their British counterparts, whose decisions are seen as influential, have been reviewing vaccine data as it arrived. Experts have been testing vaccines for quality, batch by batch, and reading more than 1,000 pages of data. And different teams worked in parallel, rather than waiting for other parts of the review to finish.

“If you’re climbing a mountain, you prepare and prepare,” Dr. June Raine, the chief executive of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said Wednesday. “We started that in June.”

When early results arrived Nov. 10, she said, “We were at base camp.” And later, she said, “When we got the final analysis, we were ready for that last sprint.”

Read the full story here.

—Benjamin Mueller, The New York Times

Thinking about escaping to Mexico for the winter? Think again, CDC says.

Mexico may seem like the perfect winter getaway for U.S. travelers. The weather is warm and health requirements during the pandemic are lax relative to other tropical destinations.

Unlike many other popular travel spots, Mexico’s rules for visitors arriving by air are not onerous, according to the U.S. Embassy. While they may be subject to health screenings, tourists from the United States do not need to show proof of a negative test or undergo quarantine if they fly into the country. Nonessential travel by land, including tourism, is not allowed at least through Dec. 21.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said recently that citizens should avoid all travel to the country, citing the “very high level” of coronavirus.

The CDC designated Mexico — and 175 other countries and territories — as “Level 4” coronavirus destinations when it revamped its system for travel health notices on Nov. 21. Previously, the CDC used a three-level notice system. Mexico had been a Level 3 destination at the time; the agency recommended travelers avoid all nonessential travel.

Destinations with more than 200,000 people get a Level 4 designation based on their incidence rate and new case trajectory, according to the CDC. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that Mexico has seen 188,581 new cases over the past month and 14,187 deaths.

Click here to read more.

—Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post
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Thanksgiving weekend ferry ridership down almost 50% vs. 2019

Washington State Ferries reports Wednesday that ridership over Thanksgiving weekend was around half as much as in 2019.

After strong warnings and advisories to avoid traveling over the holiday weekend, WSF counted 175,000 ferry passengers Wednesday through Sunday, compared to 340,000 a year ago.

Stay home for the holidays or get tested twice, CDC urges

Health officials on Wednesday urged Americans to stay home over the upcoming holiday season and consider getting tested for coronavirus before and after if they do decide to travel.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the best way to stay safe and protect others is to stay home.

That’s the same advice they had over Thanksgiving but many Americans traveled anyway. With COVID-19 cases and deaths continuing to rise, the CDC added the testing option.

The CDC says even if few people became infected while traveling over Thanksgiving, that could still result in hundreds of thousands of new infections.

During a news briefing, the CDC said travelers should consider getting COVID-19 tests one to three days before their trips and again three to five days afterward. They also recommended reducing non-essential activities for a full week after travel or for 10 days if not tested afterward.

Read the full story here.

—Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press

Austria to allow Christmas skiing but many restrictions stay

 Austria will allow skiing to start on Dec. 24, but will limit the capacity of ski lifts and keep restaurants, bars and hotels largely closed until early January, officials said Wednesday. It also will require many people entering the country over the Christmas period to go into quarantine.

That will effectively mean that, over the holiday season, skiing is possible in most cases only on day trips for those Austrian residents who live fairly close to the Alps. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said there will be mask-wearing and distancing requirements, and the capacity of cable cars will be limited.

Austria has been hard hit by the resurgence of coronavirus infections in Europe, though its infection rate has declined over recent weeks. It currently is recording 335 new infections per 100,000 residents over seven days, down from around 600 last month — but still more than twice as many as in neighboring Germany, which is in a milder partial shutdown.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Putin orders ‘large-scale’ vaccination of doctors, teachers

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered the start of a “large-scale” COVID-19 vaccination of doctors and teachers late next week with the Sputnik V shot, which has yet to complete advanced studies needed to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

In Belgrade, Serbia, a woman passes by graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Putin on Wednesday ordered the start of a “large-scale” COVID-19 vaccination of doctors and teachers late next week with the Sputnik V shot, which has yet to complete advanced studies needed to ensure its effectiveness and safety. (Darko Vojinovic / The Associated Press)

Putin’s statement comes hours after Britain, which became the first country in the West to authorize the use of a COVID-19 vaccine from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

Sputnik V has been touted in Russia as the world’s “first registered COVID-19 vaccine” after it received regulatory approval in early August. However, the move drew considerable criticism from experts, because at the time the shots had only been tested on several dozen people.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

South Korea says stay home ahead of national exams

Parents wearing face masks pray during a service to wish for their children’s success on the eve of the college entrance exam at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. About 490,000 high school seniors and graduates across the country are expected to take the College Scholastic Ability Test. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings as about half a million students prepare for a crucial national college exam.

Vice Education Minister Park Baeg-beom says the 490,000 applicants include 35 virus carriers who will take the exams Thursday at hospitals or treatment shelters. Education authorities have also prepared separate venues for some 400 applicants currently under self-quarantine.

Applicants will be required to wear masks and maintain distance from each other. They will be screened for fever and take exams separately if they have symptoms.

Park Yu-mi, an anti-virus official in Seoul, pleaded with people to cancel all gatherings of more than 10, and for companies to have at least one-third of their employees work from home to ensure a safe environment for Thursday’s examination.

A recent spike in coronavirus infections has made this year’s exams more complicated and there are concerns that they could accelerate the spread of the virus.

The country on Wednesday reported 511 new infections, continuing a weekslong resurgence centered around the greater Seoul capital area that brought the national caseload to 35,163, including 526 deaths.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Animal cruelty cases spike in King County; prosecutors and service organizations consider pandemic’s role

When Ann Graves and her team walked into a West Seattle home to investigate an animal cruelty complaint in mid-October, she was horrified. There were caged animals in nearly every room in the house, and the floor was covered in hay and animal feces, according to police. In some rooms, police said they found animals that appeared to have died from lack of food, water and medical attention.

That afternoon, Graves and her team rescued more than 220 live animals, including dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, mice and chinchillas.

Prosecutors are reporting animal cruelty cases in King County, like cases in other categories of crime such as homicides, domestic violence and shootings, have increased this year during the pandemic.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tali Smith, who handles many of the animal cruelty cases in King County said she's seeing more direct violence against animals this year.

“My guess is that the pandemic has been hard on a lot of people, both in terms of their resources (and) their mental health,” Smith said. “And so it’s kind of a pressure-cooker situation. You have people that are angry (and) they’re at home a lot. That anger can be taken out on an animal.”

Read the story here.

—Elise Takahama
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NYC bar owner who defied coronavirus restrictions arrested

The owner of a New York City bar that was providing indoor service in defiance of coronavirus restrictions was arrested after a sting in which plainclothes officers went inside and ordered food and beverages, the city sheriff’s office said.

Protesters shouted as deputies arrested 34-year-old Danny Presti, the co-owner of Mac’s Public House on Staten Island, on Tuesday.

The tavern is in an area designated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as an orange zone because of spiking COVID-19 rates and was not supposed to be serving customers indoors. But the owners had declared the bar an “autonomous zone,” a nod to protesters who claimed control over a Seattle neighborhood in June.

The bar has been fined thousands of dollars as it continued to serve patrons inside and to operate past the 10 p.m. curfew for restaurant service that Cuomo imposed citywide.

According to a release from Sheriff Joseph Fucito, plainclothes deputies went inside Tuesday and ordered food in exchange for a mandatory $40 “donation.” Uniformed deputies went in then and issued tickets for state and city violations.

Presti was uncooperative and was charged with obstruction of governmental administration in addition to the charges stemming from unauthorized food and beverage service, the sheriff said.

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—The Associated Press

Is train travel a safer option this holiday?

Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Transportation Security Administration reported a record number of travelers passing through airports, and AAA predicted that nearly 50 million people would be traveling by car. Those numbers suggest that there could be another travel bump in the next few weeks, around Christmas.

Driving and flying are the most popular travel options, but where does taking a train fit into pandemic travel? During the 2019 fiscal year, Amtrak carried a record 32.5 million passengers; however, an Amtrak internal analysis in April showed a 95% drop in ridership because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Air travel was also down by 96%).

Gina Suh, head of the Mayo Clinic’s travel clinic, says train travel is not too dissimilar from air travel. There’s not enough data on either to say which is safer, but the same risk factors are at play. It’s all about how many people you come in contact with during your journey.

New York City police officers watch as a train arrives at Penn Station in New York. (Bebeto Matthews / AP, file)

“That could mean if you are in a crowded train station, if the train itself has it has a density of people around you – whether that’s passengers or crew members – that could still pose a risk,” Suh says.

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—Natalie B. Compton, The Washington Post

Catch up on the last 24 hours

Health-care workers and residents of long-term-care facilities will be among the first to get a coronavirus vaccine, a CDC advisory panel decided yesterday. When? Maybe as soon as this month, King County’s top health official said. Here are the next steps.

• Now airlines must embark on "the mission of the century" to carry vaccines around the world, with Boeing jets playing a key role.

• Britain became the first nation to OK a vaccine, giving emergency approval today to the shot developed by Pfizer.

• An important change: If you believe you’ve been exposed, the CDC says you need to quarantine for seven to 10 days, not 14 as previously recommended.

• In a small Oregon town, at least 20 firefighters were exposed to COVID-19 while attending a training session.

• A Los Angeles County official has egg on her face after speaking strongly about the dangers of outdoor restaurant dining — and then having dinner on a restaurant patio.

• "Blaming people, yelling at them — clearly it's not working." Americans' Thanksgiving missteps terrified health experts. Now they're trying to deal with several key takeaways as we head toward the doubleheader of Christmas and New Year’s. For those who plan to travel, is going by rail safer than by air? Here’s what experts say. And there’s at least one place we won’t be going, even though it’s oh-so-close.

—The Seattle Times
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