Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Sunday, Dec. 20, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Washington state officials are focused on vaccinating healthcare workers and long-term care residents, with more doses expected soon. Today, an independent panel of experts is expected to release guidance on who should receive vaccines next, which will shape the state’s next steps.

Congress may vote on an economic relief bill as soon as today, after months of delays. Lawmakers say the package, which will cost nearly $1 trillion, includes supplemental unemployment benefits, direct stimulus payments, subsidies for hard-hit businesses and funding for schools, healthcare providers and renters facing eviction.

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 and the world.

Starting on Dec. 21, we will not have this daily COVID-19 graphic in our Monday print edition, as the state Department of Health will no longer be reporting coronavirus data on Sundays. Data on Mondays will now incorporate the case and hospitalization counts from the previous day.

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)


Federal relief money may trickle down to Seattle-area transit

Puget Sound transit agencies might share nearly $300 million from the new COVID-19 economic-relief bill that congressional leaders negotiated Sunday.

The money should help them cover operating costs, despite losses in 2020 because of lower sales-tax revenues and fare income. Transit ridership is down by 54% and ferry use is down 43% from normal levels, as people either work from home or avoid personal trips to reduce their exposure to the coronavirus. King County Metro Transit, the nation's ninth-busiest public bus agency, is operating at about 85% of normal frequency and isn't planning to cut further in 2021.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, citing his "back of the envelope" math, estimated last week a $900 billion federal package, in which $15 billion is earmarked for public transit, would translate into $304 million for the Puget Sound region, of which Sound Transit might get $97 million — based on their proportionate shares of the national pie.

In boom times, about three-quarters of a million passengers per day rode with Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, Washington State Ferries, Pierce Transit or Seattle monorail and streetcars.

The exact transit amount isn't immediately available, but a rider-advocacy group hailed Sunday's emerging deal as providing $4 billion just to New York City's desperate transit systems, while Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic quotes Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, as "very proud of the mass transit provision."

Earlier this year, Metro forecast total losses of $615 million for 2020-22, but it has some resources to weather the storm, including a revenue-stabilization surplus of $258 million, and $243 million from an earlier round of federal relief money this summer.

Rogoff also reported Sound Transit's ongoing light-rail construction projects, north to Lynnwood and south to Federal Way, will receive their normal allotment next year of $100 million each from the Federal Transit Administration.

—Mike Lindblom

COVID-19’s ‘untold story’: Texas Blacks and Latinos are dying in the prime of their lives

DALLAS — Claudio Sanchez is facing his first Christmas without his fiancée, Blanca Leon; his mother, Cecilia; and Blanca’s father, Jose. All three died of COVID-19.

Now Claudio, 33, a machine operator at a paper company, cares for his and Blanca’s two sons, his sister and three young cousins who used to live with his mom and aunt. His aunt is hospitalized with COVID-19 and on a ventilator. The Sanchezes are two motherless generations, grieving together.

“I feel like I’ve been robbed, just beaten up,” said Claudio, who lives in Lancaster. “It’s ripped apart everything.”

Conventional wisdom says COVID-19 threatens only the very old. That’s not true in Texas’ Latino and Black communities, where working-age adults are dying at rates many times higher than those of whites.

“That discussion of ‘Oh, it’s all the really old people’ — that’s a white people’s story,” said Sarah Reber, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles and a fellow at the nonprofit Brookings Institution.

In Texas, among those ages 25 to 64, the COVID-19 death rate for Hispanics is more than four times as high than that of non-Hispanic whites, a Dallas Morning News analysis of state health data found. Blacks in that age group are dying at more than twice the rate of whites. Similar trends hold true for Dallas County.

Read the full story here.

—The Dallas Morning News

Congress seals agreement on COVID relief, government funding

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Capitol Hill negotiators sealed a deal Sunday on an almost $1 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.

The agreement, announced by Senate leaders, would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefits and $600 direct stimulus payments to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

The House was expected to vote on the legislation very late Sunday or Monday and Senate action would follow. Lawmakers are eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.

A breakthrough came late Saturday in a fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers that was resolved by the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. That led to a final round of negotiations.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Nursing homes face daunting task of getting consent before they give coronavirus vaccines

More than 3 million elderly and infirm residents of nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities may face delays in getting coronavirus vaccines as the facilities confront the difficult task of obtaining consent, which consumer advocates, operators and some health officials say should have been simplified and started earlier by the federal government.

Obtaining consent presents one of the toughest hurdles as officials mobilize to inoculate residents of these facilities, many of whom have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Facilities must track down relatives or attorneys in those cases, which could take days or weeks. In some instances, they may need to resolve disputes when family members disagree on whether their loved ones should receive a vaccine.

Even residents of sound mind may be anxious about a new vaccine and need time to weigh risks and benefits and consult with relatives.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

EXPLAINER: Are new coronavirus strains cause for concern?

Reports from Britain and South Africa of new coronavirus strains that seem to spread more easily are causing alarm, but virus experts say it’s unclear if that’s the case or whether they pose any concern for vaccines or cause more severe disease.

Viruses naturally evolve as they move through the population, some more than others. It’s one reason we need a fresh flu shot each year.

New variants, or strains, of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been seen almost since it was first detected in China nearly a year ago.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions because of the new strain, and several European Union countries banned or limited some flights from the U.K. to try to limit any spread.

Here’s what is known about the situation. Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Major U.S. companies are lobbying in a scrum for early vaccine

Companies across America – from Amazon and Uber to railroads and meatpacking plants – are lobbying states and the federal government to prioritize their workers for early immunization against the coronavirus amid limited supplies of the vaccine.

After front-line health-care workers and elderly people in nursing homes and assisted-living centers are immunized, the government within two months or so is expected to begin shipping vaccine to communities across America for those it has designated as essential workers.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine advisory group voted Sunday to recommend that grocery store workers, teachers, day-care staffers, adults over 75 and other front-line workers who cannot work remotely should be the next to get the coronavirus vaccine, followed later by another large batch of essential workers and elderly people. The recommendations guide state authorities in deciding who should have priority to receive limited doses of vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

The two groups of essential workers that the government is prioritizing comprises 87 million people, spanning dozens of industries and including many people of color and many earning low wages. And the task of setting the sequence of vaccinations within that sprawling, disparate population, verifying who is essential, and setting up equitable systems for access is triggering competition. The government’s list is so broad that it weather forecasters and operators of shooting ranges.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

The Coronavirus Is Mutating. What Does That Mean for Us?

Just as vaccines begin to offer hope for a path out of the pandemic, officials in Britain on Saturday sounded an urgent alarm about what they called a highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus circulating in England.

Citing the rapid spread of the virus through London and surrounding areas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the country’s most stringent lockdown since March.

“When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense,” he said.

In South Africa, a similar version of the virus has emerged, seeming to share some of the mutations seen in the British variant. That virus has been found in 90% of the samples whose genetic sequences have been analyzed in South Africa.

Scientists are worried about these variants but not surprised by them. Researchers have recorded thousands of tiny modifications in the genetic material of the coronavirus as it has hopscotched across the world.

Some variants become more common in a population simply by luck, not because the changes somehow supercharge the virus. But as it becomes more difficult for the pathogen to survive — because of vaccinations and growing immunity in human populations — researchers also expect the virus to gain useful mutations enabling it to spread more easily or to escape detection by the immune system.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Biden to receive COVID vaccine as Trump remains on sidelines

WASHINGTON (AP) — The leader of the Trump administration’s vaccination program says people who have been infected with the coronavirus — a group that includes President Donald Trump — should be vaccinated.

Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser of Operation Warp Speed, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the vaccine is safe for those who have recovered and offers stronger and potentially longer protection than does the virus itself.

“We know that infection doesn’t induce a very strong immune response and it wanes over time. So I think, as a clear precaution, it is appropriate to be vaccinated because it’s safe,” he said. “I think people should be vaccinated, indeed.”

Trump has not received the first of two vaccination shots, which began being administered last week as part of the largest vaccination campaign in the nation’s history. Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., all were given doses Friday. President-elect Joe Biden was to receive his Monday.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

US airport traffic rising despite holiday travel warnings

SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — More than 1 million people have passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints in each of the past two days in a sign that public health pleas to avoid holiday travel are being ignored, despite an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.

It marks the first time U.S. airports have screened more than 1 million passengers since Nov. 29. That came at the end of a Thanksgiving weekend that saw far more travel around the country than had been hoped as the weather turned colder and COVID-19 cases were already spiking again.

Now, hospitals in many areas are being overwhelmed amid the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. since March, when most Americans were ordered to stay home and avoid interactions with other households.

The seven-day rolling average of newly reported infections in the U.S. has risen from about 176,000 a day just before Thanksgiving to more than 215,000 a day. It’s too early to calculate how much of that increase is due to travel and gatherings over Thanksgiving, but experts believe they are a factor.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Inslee announces Western states' approval of Moderna vaccine

The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup has authorized use of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Sunday.

The vaccine won emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday and the first shipments are expected to arrive in Washington this week. Moderna's vaccine is the second to gain approval from the FDA and the workgroup comprised of vaccine experts from Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.

“I’m pleased that the Western States Workgroup gave their unanimous recommendation to the Moderna vaccine today and encourages immediate use of the vaccine in our states,” Inslee said in a news release. “Having two vaccines to combat COVID-19 will help us begin to recover from this destructive pandemic.”

The workgroup was formed to further vet any federally distributed vaccines by adding another layer of independent review.

Moderna's vaccine is easier to handle than the previously approved Pfizer vaccine, which is already in use, as it does not require storage at ultra-frozen temperatures.

“We still need to be extremely vigilant in taking care of each other until the vaccine is widely available, which will still be several months from now,” Inslee said in the release. “We must continue masking, physical distancing and not gathering with friends and family, especially during this holiday season. Our disease activity remains high, and we must work together to keep each other safe.”

—Michael Rietmulder

Lawmakers eye swift action on stimulus deal Sunday after resolving major impasse

Details began to emerge on Sunday over key economic relief measures in the long-awaited stimulus bill that lawmakers are racing to complete, including stimulus checks and federal unemployment benefits.

Lawmakers were hoping to vote on a stimulus relief package as early as Sunday, but Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, warned it’s “doubtful” that the Senate would consider the relief legislation Sunday. However, Congress would need to pass another temporary stopgap measure to keep the government open, because appropriations to fund the federal government lapse Sunday at midnight.

Consensus has settled on $600 stimulus checks, which would get phased out at upper incomes, similar to the last round of stimulus checks, according to two people granted anonymity to share details of private deliberations. And Congress would also extend unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week, which could start as early as Dec. 27.

While the two people have said there’s broad agreement on stimulus checks and unemployment insurance, they caution nothing is final until the bill released. Indeed, several other policy disputes remained outstanding, according to multiple aides close to negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the fluid talks, which could push the timeline back again.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Agreement likely Sunday on nearly $1 trillion virus aid bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Washington negotiators, propelled by a late-night agreement on the last major obstacle to a COVID-19 economic relief package, said a Sunday agreement is all but inevitable to deliver long-overdue pandemic aid of almost $1 trillion.

“I am very hopeful that we get this done today,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Only a handful of issues remained, said the Senate’s top Democrat. “Barring a major mishap, the Senate and House will be able to vote on final legislation as early as tonight,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

The breakthrough involved a fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers that was resolved by Schumer and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Aides to lawmakers in both parties said the compromise sparked a final round of negotiations.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Mostly virus-free Kauai hit by pandemic after travel resumes

HONOLULU (AP) — On Hawaii’s rural island of Kauai, where sprawling white sand beaches and dramatic seaside mountains attract visitors from around the world, local residents spent the first seven months of the pandemic sheltered from the viral storm.

Early and aggressive local measures coupled with a strictly enforced statewide travel quarantine kept Kauai’s 72,000 residents mostly healthy — the island had only 61 known coronavirus cases from March through September. But on Oct. 15, the state launched a pre-travel testing program to reignite Hawaii’s decimated tourism economy.

Kauai went from having no infections to at least 84 new cases in seven weeks. The surge seeded community transmission and led to the island’s first — and so far only — COVID-19 death: Ron Clark, who worked for decades as a tour driver.

Despite Hawaii’s cautious effort at reopening that allowed travelers who tested negative for COVID-19 before they flew to the state to sidestep quarantine rules, the Kauai spike illustrates the difficulty of preserving public health — even on an isolated island — when economic recovery relies on travel. Kauai officials have decided the cost of vacationing in paradise, for now, is too high.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Racism targets Asian food, business during COVID-19 pandemic

As the coronavirus spread throughout the U.S., bigotry toward Asian Americans was not far behind, fueled by the news that COVID-19 first appeared in China.

Some initial evidence suggested the virus began in bats, which infected another animal that may have spread it to people at one of Wuhan, China’s “wet markets.” Such markets sell fresh meat, fish and vegetables, and some also sell live animals, such as chickens, that are butchered on site to ensure freshness for consumers.

The information quickly got distorted in the U.S., spurring racist memes on social media that portrayed Chinese people as bat eaters responsible for spreading the virus, and reviving century-old tropes about Asian food being dirty. Fueling the fire, President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as “the China virus.”

“That old-school rhetoric that we eat bats, dogs and rats — that racism is still alive and well,” said Clarence Kwan, creator of the anti-racist cooking zine “Chinese Protest Recipes.” The speed with which such false stereotypes resurfaced during the pandemic is “a reflection of how little progress we’ve made,” Kwan said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Pandemic exposes the vulnerability of Italy’s ‘new poor’

MILAN (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic did not produce Elena Simone’s first budgetary rough patch. The 49-year-old single mother found herself out of the job market when the 2008 global financial crisis hit Italy and never fully got back in, but she created a patchwork of small jobs that provided for herself and the youngest of her three children.

That all changed with Italy’s first COVID-19 lockdown in the spring.

With schools closed, so went Simone’s cafeteria job. Her housecleaning gigs dried up, too. While others returned to work when the lockdown ended, Simone stayed frozen out. “There was a period when I was only eating carrots,’’ she recalled from her kitchen decorated with colorful plush characters shaped like vegetables.

Simone, who has two adult children and a 10-year-old son at home, is typical of Italy’s new poor. These are people who managed to get by after the 2008 financial crisis, staying off the radar of Italy’s welfare system by relying on informal, gray-market jobs and the help of friends and family.

But between Italy’s near-total spring lockdown, the introduction of a partial lockdown when the virus surged again in the fall and the continued toll the pandemic is taking on Italy’s economy, the slim threads that allowed people to weave together employment have snapped. Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Mississippi churches face difficult decisions at Christmas

RIDGELAND, Miss. (AP) — It always feels special for Pastor Jay Richardson when his congregation at Highland Colony Baptist Church gathers during the holidays — but this year, that’s even more true because of time they’ve spent apart.

The church temporarily shut down at the start of the pandemic, and again three months ago, when 25 worshipers became infected with coronavirus during an outbreak. Richardson, 70, was hospitalized with double pneumonia caused by the virus. As hard as it was dealing with an outbreak, in many ways the isolation it caused has been worse, Richardson said.

“I’ve made the decision here that unless it’s a very, very unique situation, we’re not going to shut this church down anymore,” Richardson said, explaining that not being able to worship together has hurt members emotionally and spiritually.

Mississippi is the center of the Bible Belt, where residents consider themselves the most religious in the entire country, according to Pew Research Center. At the same time, most of the state falls into the high-risk category for coronavirus because of a high rates of conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

Houses of worship have faced difficult decisions during the pandemic and those challenges have been exacerbated as new cases peak during Christmastime, with thousands of Americans dying from the virus every day.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs described churches as a “powder keg” for virus infections and deaths. State health data have shown that church services have caused a significant number of outbreaks in Mississippi. Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Thousands line up for tests amid Thailand virus outbreak

SAMUT SAKHON, Thailand (AP) — Thousands of people lined up for coronavirus tests in a province near Bangkok on Sunday, as Thai authorities scrambled to contain an outbreak of the virus that has infected nearly 700 people.

Triple lines of mainly migrant workers stretched for around 100 meters in one location alone, at Mahachai in Samut Sakhon province, as health officials in mobile units methodically took nasal swabs. There were three locations in total in the area.

Nearby, razor wire and police guards blocked access to the Klang Koong, or Central Shrimp, seafood market — one of Thailand’s largest — and its associated housing, the epicenter of the new cluster.

Thailand’s Disease Control Department said Sunday that they found 141 more cases linked to the market outbreak. On Saturday, the department reported 548 cases, Thailand’s biggest daily spike, sending shockwaves through a country that has seen only a small number of infections over the past several months due to strict border and quarantine controls.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Strained health agencies push do-it-yourself contact tracing

When Eileen Carroll’s daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, Rhode Island health officials called with the results, then told her to notify anyone her daughter might have been around. Contact tracers, she was told, were simply too overwhelmed to do it.

That’s also why tracers didn’t call to warn the family that it had been exposed in the first place, said Carroll, of Warwick, Rhode Island. Luckily, she said, the relative with COVID-19 they had been around at Thanksgiving already alerted them.

“They said, ‘We have 500 people a day and we cannot keep up with this,'” Carroll said.

It’s the same story across the U.S., as state and local health departments ask people who test positive to warn friends, family and co-workers themselves because a catastrophic surge in infections has made it difficult or impossible to keep up with the calls considered critical to controlling outbreaks.

Health officials say do-it-yourself tracing is not ideal, but as infections and hospitalizations soar, it’s likely the most effective way to reach people who may be at risk.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

It’s Unclear If U.S. Has the U.K. Virus Mutation, Slaoui Says

It’s not clear whether a more transmissible variant of the coronavirus that prompted tighter restrictions in the U.K. has made its way to the U.S., according to Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for the government’s vaccine acceleration program.

“We don’t know,” Slaoui said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” on Sunday. “We’re looking at that.”

Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir questioned the threat posed by the virus changes cited by the U.K. government, saying it has mutated more than 4,000 times since its discovery. There’s no imminent need to suspend flights from the U.K., he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“We don’t know that it’s more dangerous, and very importantly we have not seen a single mutation yet that would make it evade the vaccine,” and while that can’t be ruled out for the future, “I don’t think there should be any reason for alarm right now,” Giroir said.

The new variant may be as much as 70% more transmissible, which led U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce a lockdown for London and large parts of southeast England on Saturday. He canceled plans to ease pandemic restrictions for five days over the holidays, and banned household mixing in London and the southeast while restricting socializing to just Christmas Day across the rest of England.

Read the full story here.


COVID-19 ripped through communities east of the Cascades, killing people at twice the rate of Western Washington

SOAP LAKE, Grant County — For months, McKay Healthcare & Rehab staff kept its elderly residents safe from COVID-19. But in late October, the virus slipped into the center’s 8-decade-old building.

By mid-December, 15 of the 31 residents had died from the disease.

In the struggle to fight the virus, some staff members worked 24-hour shifts to cover for co-workers who tested positive and had to stay home.

As Christmas approaches and wreaths decorate the center’s long narrow hallway, the outbreak is over. But most of the beds are empty. So McKay’s administrator, Erica Gaertner, says she is forced into an economic reckoning, and must reduce hours or pay of some of the employees with whom she joined in the searing struggle to save lives.

“These are hard conversations. The very people who got us through this are the very ones I have too many of,” Gaertner said.

The death toll at nonprofit McKay, located in a farming community of fewer than 1,500 people at the edge of a remote mineral-rich lake, is stark evidence of the long reach of COVID-19 across Central and Eastern Washington.

Read the full story here.

—Hal Bernton

Several EU nations halt UK flights, fearing virus variant

BERLIN (AP) — One by one, several European Union nations banned flights from the U.K. on Sunday and others like Germany were considering such action, all in hopes of blocking a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from establishing a strong foothold on the continent.

The Netherlands banned flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year while Belgium issued a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight and also halted train links to Britain, including the Eurostar. Austria and Italy said they would halt flights from the U.K. but did not say exactly when that would take place.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Twitter that the government was preparing the ban “to protect Italians” from the new coronavirus variant. About two dozen flights were scheduled to arrive in Italy on Sunday, most in the northern region of Lombardy but also to Venice and Rome.

German officials, meanwhile, said they were considering “serious options” regarding incoming flights from the U.K. and the Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain. An EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were still ongoing, said Sunday afternoon that the EU Commission was in touch with member states on the rapidly developing situation.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

2nd COVID-19 vaccine authorized in US ships out

OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. (AP) — Initial shipments of the second COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S. left a distribution center Sunday, a desperately needed boost as the nation works to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control.

The trucks left the factory in the Memphis area with the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health. The much-needed shots are expected to be given starting Monday, just three days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized their emergency rollout.

Later Sunday, an expert committee will debate who should be next in line for early doses of the Moderna vaccine and a similar one from Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech. Pfizer’s shots were first shipped out a week ago and started being used the next day, kicking off the nation’s biggest vaccination drive.

Public health experts say the shots — and others in the pipeline — are the only way to stop a virus that has been spreading wildly. Nationwide, more than 219,000 people per day on average test positive for the virus, which has killed at least 314,000 in the U.S. and upwards of 1.7 million worldwide.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID-19 added new element of risk to the Grant County agriculture season

QUINCY, Grant County — Last spring’s arrival of COVID-19 loomed as a disruptive new threat to those who make their living from the land. Some feared that the virus would sweep the ranks of the agricultural labor force, leaving county farmers and growers short-handed to harvest crops and pick fruit.

This year, the virus sickened some workers and caused upheaval in key potato markets. But no Grant County workers died, according to the county health district, and COVID-19 did not cripple county agriculture, which in a typical year generates more than $1 billion in sales.

“This was new for everybody — taking people’s temperatures and keeping people separate certainly is not natural,” said Lisa Karstetter, who with husband Kent Karstetter grows fruit and other crops on nearly 1,500 acres. “We all came together to do the best we could with the cards we were dealt.”

Read the full story here.

—Hal Bernton