Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, Dec. 26, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
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Virus, other problems threaten to throw off homeless census
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The swanky, billion-dollar casinos of Las Vegas are bedecked with shining towers, neon signs and eye-popping extravagance. But directly beneath the glitter, hundreds of homeless people live out of sight, in the dark, in a network of stormwater tunnels running below the city.
When census takers tried in September to count the nation’s homeless for the 2020 census, safety concerns prevented them from venturing into the Las Vegas tunnels.
The tunnels offer just one example of the difficulty in counting the portion of the homeless population that does not stay in shelters. A half dozen census takers around the U.S. told The Associated Press that they experienced problems that could cause the homeless to be undercounted — a situation that may cost some communities political representation and federal money.
Virus besets Belarus prisons filled with president's critics
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A wave of COVID-19 has engulfed prisons in Belarus that are packed with people in custody for demonstrating against the nation’s authoritarian president, and some of the protesters who contracted the coronavirus while incarcerated accuse authorities of neglecting or even encouraging infections.
Activists who spoke to The Associated Press after their release described massively overcrowded cells without proper ventilation or basic amenities and a lack of medical treatment.
Kastus Lisetsky, 35, a musician who received a 15-day sentence for attending a protest, said he was hospitalized with a high fever after eight days at a prison in eastern Belarus and diagnosed with double-sided pneumonia induced by COVID-19.
“Humid walls covered by parasites, the shocking lack of sanitary measures, shivering cold and a rusting bed —-that was what I got in prison in Mogilev instead of medical assistance,” Lisetsky told the AP in a telephone interview. “I had a fever and lost consciousness, and the guards had to call an ambulance.”
Coronavirus cases rises to 233,093 in Washington state
The Washington State Department of Health said this afternoon that the total number of confirmed and probable cases stands at 236,719.
On Dec. 23 that figure was at 233,093.
No new deaths were reported since Dec. 23 because the state does not report deaths on holidays or weekends. The death count stands at 3,184. The percent of deaths to total cases is 1.3%.
The counties with the highest rates of confirmed cases as King, Snohomish, Pierce, Yakima, Spokane and Clark.
Vaccinations for local homeless populations present unique challenges
For reasons that remain somewhat of a mystery, early fears of rampant spread of COVID-19 in local homeless encampments have not been fully realized. Yet, while people in homeless shelters are in the second tier of prioritization for coronavirus vaccines — along with others who share spaces such as nursing homes or correctional facilities — federal officials have offered little guidance for people living in outdoor encampments.
In King County, that means the vaccine prospects for more than half the homeless population remain uncertain.
When it’s their turn, vaccinating the thousands of local people living outdoors will be a huge logistical feat: Health officials must figure out how to distribute it to a geographically disparate group of people who are often impossible to find and tend to distrust institutional medicine — and then likely do it all again with a second dose.
Read the full Project Homeless story by The Seattle Times' Scott Greenstone, with photos by Steve Ringman, here.
New COVID self-testing site opens in south Seattle
An additional COVID-19 self-testing kiosk in South Seattle, at the Old UW Laundry site west of Mt. Baker Light Rail Station, is scheduled to open today.
The testing site is the third new kiosk to open this week, with others already having come online at Lower Woodland Park in North Seattle, and at Second Avenue and Republican, near the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the city announced.
All kiosks will initially operate from noon to 3:00 p.m., and ultimately from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. Hours might be adjusted according to demand, the city said; check the city's testing website for updates.
Online reservations are required and can be made on the Curative website.
The new kiosks, staffed by a testing professional, allow clients to submit their own oral fluid swab. Results are delivered electronically within 48 hours. Clients will not be charged and will not receive a bill, regardless of insurance status, the city said.
Seattle has conducted nearly a half million tests at public testing sites since June, Mayor Jenny Durkan said this week.
A ‘great cultural depression’ looms for unemployed performers
Millions of people have lost their jobs and tens of thousands of businesses have closed since the coronavirus pandemic spread across the United States. But the losses in the performing arts and related sectors have been comparatively staggering.
During the quarter ending in September, when the overall unemployment rate averaged 8.5%, 52% of actors, 55% of dancers and 27% of musicians were out of work, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. By comparison, the jobless rate was 27% for waiters; 19% for cooks; and about 13% for retail salespeople over the same period.
In many areas, arts venues — theaters, clubs, performance spaces, concert halls, festivals — were the first businesses to close, and they are likely to be among the last to reopen.
“My fear is we’re not just losing jobs, we’re losing careers,” said Adam Krauthamer, president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians in New York. He said 95% of the local’s 7,000 members are not working on a regular basis because of the mandated shutdown. “It will create a great cultural depression,” he said.
Duke women's basketball team ends season on COVID concerns
The women’s basketball program at Duke University will end its season early, the team announced Friday, because of mounting coronavirus concerns. It’s the first Power Five basketball team to start and stop its season because of the pandemic.
“The student-athletes on the Duke women’s basketball team have made the difficult decision to conclude their current season due to safety concerns,” Michael Schoenfeld, chief communications officer for the school in Durham, North Carolina, said in the announcement.
The women’s team, which had a 3-1 record, had initially suspended operations on Dec. 16 after two members of its traveling party tested positive for the virus, requiring contact tracing.
Kara Lawson, Duke’s first-year head coach, had said after a game against Louisville this month that she did not think the team should be playing during the pandemic.
Coronavirus "UK variant" continues spread outside Britain
The highly transmissible variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in England had by Saturday been documented in several European countries, Japan, Australia and Lebanon, despite efforts to curb its spread through massive global disruptions in travel and movement.
Fears over the fast-spreading form of the virus that causes covid-19 come in sharp contrast to a wave of hope sweeping some countries and communities as vaccination programs begin to be rolled out. Scientists do not think that the British variant is more deadly or resistant to the current coronavirus vaccines.
The variant has also been detected in France, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.
While the United States has not yet reported a case, experts say that is likely due to its very low rate of genetic sequencing of the virus to check for such changes.
Cruise ships creep back to West Coast, but summer season uncertain
A handful of cruise ships, mostly from Europe, are making their way back to San Diego, in hopeful anticipation of a West Coast summer cruise season that remains in doubt because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
The extended San Diego visit by the cruise ships belonging to Seattle-based Holland America is the first step toward getting certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the time when they will be able to begin welcoming passengers aboard next year. Among other things, the company has its eye on the 2021 Seattle-Alaska cruise season, which in normal years is big business from May to September.
For now, it’s not likely San Diego will see cruise lines resuming voyages until at least the spring, but even then it remains uncertain how many ships that normally sail out of the port will have met all the federal requirements.
The first of the four Holland America ships — the Koningsdam — arrived at the B Street Pier on Wednesday. Because the vessels had not previously been in U.S. waters, they are taking that step now in order to begin laboratory testing of crew members on board.
It is part of the first phase of the CDC process for the restart of cruising, which also requires the eventual launch of simulated voyages to test the ships’ ability to manage any outbreaks of COVID-19 on board.
2020 to exit virtually "at" Seattle's Space Needle
It's probably the most-2020 way to end 2020: Rather than the typical New Year's Eve fireworks show, some Seattle folks have dreamed up -- literally -- a way to present a "virtual" Needle celebration, visible only online.
The show will be broadcast live at 11:35 p.m. on KING 5 and KONG-TV and streamed on KING 5 and Space Needle websites with a series of appearances by local celebrities, front-line workers and others and musical performances. KING 5’s “Evening” team will host the event as usual, but they’ll broadcast from T-Mobile Park to discourage people from gathering at Seattle Center to try and get on camera.
(For those of you who, like the rest of us, have lost all track of time, New Year's Eve is this coming Thursday.)
CDC squandered weeks pursuing complex test at pandemic’s start
When the coronavirus causing COVID-19 was exploding in January in Wuhan, a Chinese city with 11 million people connected by its airport to destinations around the world, U.S. doctors and hospitals were waiting for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a test to detect the threat.
On Jan. 13, the World Health Organization had made public a recipe for how to configure such a test, and several countries wasted no time getting started: Within hours, scientists in Thailand used the instructions to deploy a new test.
But in the U.S., the CDC would not roll out one that worked for 46 more days.
Inside the 15-acre campus of the CDC in northeast Atlanta, the senior scientists developing the coronavirus test were fighting and losing the battle against time.
The agency squandered weeks as it pursued a test design far more complicated than the WHO version and as its scientists wrestled with failures that regulators would later trace to a contaminated lab.
As federal aid falls short, state and local funds provide relief for state immigrants
Undocumented immigrants have been hit hard during the pandemic. They were ineligible for the federal stimulus check, as well as unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program. Additionally, spouses and U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants were denied federal stimulus checks. In Washington, that affected an estimated 240,000 undocumented immigrants.
State officials are working to fill those gaps. But even as other local entities, such as the City of Seattle, consider their own assistance, the future remains uncertain for many in the coming year. While the supplemental aid covers basic needs, advocates worry that the one-time payments won't be enough to make ends meet. More help might be on the way.
For the very elderly, the coronavirus math is unique, and daunting
While overall death rates in the low single digits dominate most discussions of COVID-19, the actual death rate among those 85-plus infected with the disease is as high as 20 percent, notes columnist Danny Westneat, who recounts the story of his father's isolation in light of those numbers.
"What this means is a small segment of society, such as the elderly and the immunocompromised, has ended up bearing most of the pandemic’s emotional weight — the gut-level fear of the disease, for one thing, but also the extreme isolation and breakdown of social ties," Westneat writes. A team of researchers at the UW published a study on this phenomenon, calling the effect for seniors a “double pandemic.”
COVID-19 relief package to give some help to Washington state — if it happens
The new federal COVID-19 stimulus package doesn’t have funds to ease state and local budget shortfalls amid the pandemic, but it would give Washington more than $1.7 billion to, among other things, help students and schools to deal with learning loss and provide rent relief.
It would do those things, that is, if it is actually enacted. President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the deal approved this week by Congress, which spent much of the year deadlocked on a new stimulus package. Trump said Wednesday he wants lawmakers to increase the amount paid to taxpayers from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples. The bill’s fate remains uncertain.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Now that two have been federally approved, the availability and timetable for vaccines remain a pressing issue one for many. This week, Washington was set to receive 130,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine, which was approved by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup on Sunday after having been awarded emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday. Here are some FAQs about how people will know when it is their turn to be vaccinated and whether pregnant women should be vaccinated for the virus.
International airlines continued to scramble to impose travel restrictions on flights from Britain, due to concerns about a new mutation of the coronavirus. The U.S. joined other countries in requiring airline passengers from Britain to get a negative COVID-19 test before their flight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced.
Around the globe, people struggled with virus-related isolation on Christmas Day. Solitude during times of traditional social gathering with family or friends is particularly difficult for the elderly. And residents of cities and places usually alive with holiday activity reported stark scenes of deserted streets and public landmarks.
In Washington, D.C. -- and, by extension, President Trump's Florida holiday getaway -- confusion continued to reign about the massive federal coronavirus relief package, which awaits the president's signature. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she plans a full floor vote Monday on pandemic aid that includes the $2,000 payments to individuals that Trump now says he wants, replacing the $600 in the original legislation. The $900 billion package also would include forgivable loans for small businesses, supplemental unemployment benefits, support for renters facing eviction and funds for vaccine distribution.
Another health care worker, a Boston doctor, suffered a significant allergic reaction to a dose of coronavirus vaccine. The case was the first believed to have been a result of receiving the Moderna vaccine. Health officials continued to stress that such reactions have been both treatable and extremely rare.
World health officials, meanwhile, worried that distribution of vaccines to wealthy nations would worsen global economic inequities as countries begin to recover from the pandemic's impacts. Many poor countries could wait until 2024 to fully vaccinate their populations, experts say. This could constrain their economies at a time that rich countries are expected to grow their economies and prosper.
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