Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, December 10, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Though concern over omicron has dominated conversations in recent weeks, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the delta variant is a bigger threat this winter season. The U.S. is still reporting a daily average of 100,000 delta cases and about 1,400 daily COVID-19 deaths. An estimated 60 million Americans remain unvaccinated.

Meanwhile, Slovakian leaders approved a plan meant to incentivize people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. People 60 and over can earn up to 300 euros, equivalent to $339, if they get vaccinated. The country has been under lockdown since Nov. 25 and only stores selling “essential goods” remained open.

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.

Navigating the pandemic

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Companies rethink return-to-office plans amid omicron cases

Companies of all sizes are rethinking their plans to send workers back to the office as the new omicron variant adds another layer of uncertainty.

Alphabet’s Google and the nation’s second largest automaker Ford Motor Co. are among those once again delaying their return-to-office plans, while other businesses whose employees have already returned are considering adding extra precautions like requiring masks. Officials in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway and Sweden also have asked people in recent days to work from home if they can because of concerns about the variant.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, and ridesharing company Lyft separately announced Tuesday that they’re letting workers delay their return when offices fully reopen early next year. Meta still plans to open its headquarters at the end of January but will allow workers to delay their return as late as June. Lyft says it won’t require workers to come back to its offices for all of next year, though they will fully reopen as planned in February.

Janelle Gale, vice president of human resources for Meta, said the latest decision recognizes “some aren’t quite ready to come back.”

Read the full story here.

—Anne D'Innocenzio, The Associated Press
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Fourth county in Washington confirms its first omicron case

State health officials confirmed the first case of omicron Friday in Whatcom County, making it the fourth county in Washington to report at least one case of the latest COVID-19 variant.

The man who tested positive for omicron was fully vaccinated and is in isolation, according to a Whatcom County Health Department news release. Officials did not say if the man, who is in his 30s, had been traveling or was exposed to someone who was ill.

Officials confirmed the three first cases of omicron Dec. 4 in Thurston, Pierce and King counties. King County’s first case of omicron was confirmed after a woman in her 20s tested positive. The woman hadn’t traveled recently, indicating the variant was spreading locally but there was no evidence of widespread exposure, Public Health – Seattle & King County said in an update.

Nearly all reported cases of omicron in the U.S. have resulted in mild illness, but most individuals were vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though much remains unknown about the variant, health officials reported that the variant spreads more easily than previous COVID variants, according to the CDC.

—Daisy Zavala

National Guard helping virus-sapped states, hospitals

More U.S. states desperate to defend against COVID-19 are calling on the National Guard and other military personnel to assist virus-weary medical staffs at hospitals and other care centers.

People who became sick after refusing to get vaccinated are overwhelming hospitals in certain states, especially in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. New York, meanwhile, announced a statewide indoor mask order, effective Monday and lasting five weeks through the holiday season.

“We’re entering a time of uncertainty, and we could either plateau here or our cases could get out of control,” Gov. Kathy Hochul warned Friday.

In Michigan, health director Elizabeth Hertel was equally blunt: “I want to be absolutely clear: You are risking serious illness, hospitalization and even death” without a vaccination.

Read the full story here.

—Ed White, The Associated Press

Covax falls far short of its promised 2 billion vaccine doses to world’s neediest

Covax, an expansive vaccine-sharing initiative to get doses to low- and middle-income nations, once pledged to deliver more than 2 billion shots worldwide by the end of the year. But as the days tick down, it is scrambling to deliver well under half that figure.

The U.N.-led initiative is now racing to deliver 800 million doses by the end of the year, according to interviews with senior officials involved in Covax, which includes the World Health Organization and other groups. Even if that benchmark is met, it will be a far cry from the 2.3 billion doses hoped for in January by a program designed to counter a glut of vaccines in wealthy nations.

Covax lowered its estimate of doses delivered in 2021 to between 800 million and 1 billion doses late this year after a range of complications with supply and delivery. Omicron, a variant first detected in southern Africa, has added urgency to the need for vaccines, but also disrupted shipping and could upend Covax’s hopes for more regular shipments in 2022.

Though the organization was set up to pool money to purchase its own doses from a variety of manufacturers, many of those orders were delayed in the first part of the year, and the organization increasingly relies upon donations from the United States and other wealthy countries of vaccines including the AstraZeneca-Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson jabs. The Biden administration pledged in September to donate or facilitate the purchase of 1.1 billion doses to Covax, though many of those doses are not expected to arrive until next year.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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UK says omicron to become its dominant variant within days

The omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly throughout Great Britain and is likely to become the dominant form of the disease across the country by the middle of this month, the U.K. Health Security Agency said Friday.

New data from the U.K. confirm that omicron is more easily transmissible than other variants, the agency said in its latest variant technical briefing.

Other studies suggest that both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are less effective in preventing symptomatic infections in people exposed to omicron, though preliminary data show that effectiveness appears to rise to between 70% and 75% after a third booster dose.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials confirm 1,544 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,544 new coronavirus cases and 19 new deaths on Friday.

The update brings the state's totals to 790,412 cases and 9,554 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. Thursday.

In addition, 43,670 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 71 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 176,281 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,111 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,195,694 doses and 62% 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 37,721 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.

Pentagon considering COVID-19 booster mandate for troops

The Pentagon said Friday that there are “active discussions” within the department about making the COVID-19 vaccine booster shots mandatory for service members, even as thousands refuse or seek exemptions from the initial shot requirement.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there have been no final decisions on the matter.

The defense department in August announced that it would begin requiring all members of the military — including National Guard and Reserves — to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The military services sent out specific guidelines on the mandate, set their own deadlines and laid out the repercussions for those who refused and were not granted a medical, religious or administrative exemption.

Since then, deadlines for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have all passed, and thousands still have not gotten the vaccine or are seeking an exemption, which involves a lengthy process including meetings with commanders, chaplains and medical personnel.

Kirby said about 96.4% of all active duty personnel have gotten at least one shot. The percentage plunges when members of the National Guard and Reserves are included.

Read the story here.

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
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Swiss gear up for tighter rules as COVID cases keep climbing

Facing a new surge in COVID-19 cases, the Swiss government is preparing to step up mask requirements and increase restrictions on people who haven’t been vaccinated or recovered from the illness, and might even shut restaurants, bars and fitness clubs.

The count of daily deaths linked to the pandemic hit its highest level since January on Friday.

Health Minister Alain Berset laid out two alternative proposals in the wake of a sharp upswing in cases in recent months. One would withdraw the “negative test” criterion that allows unvaccinated people to attend some events and the other would shut all public indoor areas where masks can’t be worn all the time –- notably dining areas, discos, fitness clubs and bars.

The two proposals will be considered and the government will decide in coming days.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Greece: 11 held for attack on principal over virus checks

Police in northern Greece arrested 11 people Friday after a high school principal was handcuffed by alleged members of a self-styled vigilante group that opposes pandemic restrictions.

The incident occurred near the city of Katerini, 430 kilometers (270 miles) north of Athens. The suspects allegedly grabbed and handcuffed the 61-year-old principal ahead of a daily COVID-19 entry check of students at the school, forced him into a vehicle and drove him to a nearby precinct where they asked police to charge him.

Instead, police promptly detained the suspected vigilantes.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Armenia will allow employers to fire unvaccinated workers

Armenia’s parliament approved a law Friday that would allow employers to fire workers who refuse to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test result.

Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbor has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the Caucasus region.

The new rule follows an August order by the ministry of health which required Armenian citizens to provide their employers with proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test every two weeks or face a fine.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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World rushes to boost against omicron, but questions remain

The arrival of the omicron variant has triggered a global rush for booster shots, as scientists and governments see a third dose as the most expedient strategy against the new strain that appears to cause a marked loss of vaccine protection.

In the days after earliest findings showed that omicron caused a 25 to 40-fold loss of neutralizing antibodies from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second-most used shot across the world, the U.S. expanded booster access to teenagers while countries like the U.K. and South Korea are slashing wait times for a third dose in half, to three months.

But questions remain over whether the rush to booster is the right strategy against omicron. News that two omicron cases in Singapore had already received third shots coursed through financial markets, damping bullishness fueled by the Pfizer-BioNTech studies earlier in the week.

The World Health Organization has expressed reservation, emphasizing that the world must work to ensure vaccine access to those yet to receive their first doses before richer governments roll out boosters to the general population. That’s the only way to prevent the emergence of new strains like omicron, it said.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Dutch give green light for Pfizer shots for children over 5

The Dutch government cleared the way Friday for children aged 5-11 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, extending its inoculation program to an age group that had the highest rate of infections in a recent surge.

The program is set to begin in mid-January, the health ministry said.

Dutch COVID-19 infections soared to record levels last month, straining the health care system and forcing the government to impose a partial lockdown.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID crisis threatens holiday season as U.S. hospitals overflow

After months of warnings that vaccinations would ward off a COVID-19 disaster, the U.S. is sailing toward a holiday crisis.

Cases and hospital admissions are rising amid a season of family gatherings. Most victims have shunned inoculations. The situation is especially dire in the chilly Northeastern states, but doctors in many places report a grimly repetitive cycle of admission, intensive care and death. There are shortages of beds and staff to care for the suffering.

“We’re in desperate shape,” said Brian Weis, chief medical officer at Northwest Texas Healthcare System in Amarillo, the state’s worst hot spot.

In 12 states and the nation’s capital, the seven-day average of admissions with confirmed COVID-19 has climbed at least 50% from two weeks earlier, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. The areas with the largest percentage upticks were Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Vermont and Rhode Island.

Read the story here.

—David Welch, John Tozzi and Jonathan Levin, Bloomberg
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Pandemic mystery: Scientists focus on COVID’s animal origins

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the origin of the virus tormenting the world remains shrouded in mystery.

Most scientists believe it emerged in the wild and jumped from bats to humans, either directly or through another animal. Others theorize it escaped from a Chinese lab.

Now, with the global COVID-19 death toll surpassing 5.2 million on the second anniversary of the earliest human cases, a growing chorus of scientists is trying to keep the focus on what they regard as the more plausible “zoonotic,” or animal-to-human, theory, in the hope that what’s learned will help humankind fend off new viruses and variants.

Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona said, his own and others’ research has made him even more confident than he had been about the animal hypothesis, which is “just way more supported by the data.”

Last month, Worobey published a COVID-19 timeline linking the first known human case to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, where live animals were sold.

Read the story here.

—Laura Ungar, The Associated Press

South Korea reports its worst virus surge since pandemic

New coronavirus infections in South Korea exceeded 7,000 for the third consecutive day on Friday, as the worst surge since the start of the pandemic overwhelmed hospitals and depleted health care workforce.

Critics have blamed the spread on complacency by the government, which dramatically lowered social distancing rules at the start of November in what officials described as the first step toward restoring pre-pandemic normalcy.

Even as cases began to soar in recent weeks, officials were initially hesitant to tighten social distancing, citing exhaustion and frustration by the public with restrictions and their impact on livelihoods. But as the contagious delta variant reduced the effectiveness of vaccines and most people in their 60s or older are still waiting for their booster shoots, and the first cases of omicron were discovered, the sense of urgency became apparent.

Read the story here.

—Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press

Japan confirms 8 more cases of new coronavirus variant

Health officials in Japan have confirmed eight more cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, bringing the country’s total to 12, the government said Friday.

The eight tested positive for the virus when they arrived at Japanese airports from late November to earlier this month, the health ministry said in a statement.

Two of them, a woman in her 30s and a boy, arrived from Namibia on Nov. 28 on the same flight as a Namibian diplomat who was Japan’s first confirmed case of the omicron variant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said.

Japan eased border controls last month as it gradually expanded social and economic activities, but has since restored a ban on foreign entrants and limited daily arrivals to 3,500 people. 

Read the story here.

—Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press
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Thousands in Oregon face eviction as lawmakers scramble

In Oregon, where a longstanding housing crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, tenants on the brink of eviction are losing the safety nets that kept them housed. Despite an overwhelming need, the statewide rental assistance program stopped taking new applications after all federal funds have been requested and committed to renters.

Oregon has a higher rate of people experiencing homelessness than nearly every other state in America. A 2020 federal review found that 35 people in Oregon are experiencing homelessness per 10,000. Only three states had a higher rate: New York City (47 people per 10,000), Hawaii (46 people per 10,000) and California (41 people per 10,000).

Now, an estimated 8,355 households are are at risk of eviction, as protections keeping them housed have expired after they waited for rental assistance for more than two months. More than 22,000 households are still waiting to be considered for help.

Read the story here.

—Sara Cline, The Associated Press

Mouse with COVID sparks lab alert after biting scientist

A mouse bite is at the center of an investigation into a possible new COVID-19 outbreak in Taiwan, after a worker at a high-security laboratory was confirmed as the island’s first local case in more than a month.

The lab worker, a woman in her 20s, tested positive for COVID this week after coming into contact with the virus during her work at Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institute, in mid-November, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said at a quickly organized briefing Thursday evening. She had not traveled abroad recently and had received two doses of Moderna’s vaccine.

At a briefing Friday, Chen confirmed that she had been bitten on two separate occasions by a laboratory mouse infected with COVID, but said further investigation was needed to determine whether the bites had been the source of the virus’s transmission. Authorities believe she is likely infected with the delta variant.

The lab leak threatens to undo Taiwan’s hard-won success in stamping out COVID outbreaks, and underscores the difficulty of eliminating the pathogen, a goal some places — including mainland China and Hong Kong — are still aiming for.

Read the story here.

—Kanoko Matsuyama, Samson Ellis and Chien-Hua Wan, Bloomberg

New York’s COVID surge is back — and so is its mask mandate

Facing a winter surge in COVID-19 infections, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that masks will be required in all indoor public places unless the businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.

Hochul said the decision to impose a mask mandate was based on state’s weekly seven-day case rate, as well as increasing hospitalizations.

The mask mandate applies to both patrons and staff and will be in effect from Dec. 13 to Jan. 15, after which the state will reevaluate.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Pandemic nurse shortage: Kentucky gov declares an emergency

Kentucky’s governor declared the state’s chronic nursing shortage to be an emergency Thursday, taking executive actions amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to boost enrollment in nurse-training programs.

Kentucky is projected to need more than 16,000 additional nurses by 2024, to help fill gaps caused by retirements and people leaving the profession, Gov. Andy Beshear said. His new executive order includes “immediate actions that we believe will provide some relief,” the Democratic governor said. “Obviously long term there is a lot to do.”

The nurse staffing emergency in Kentucky reflects a national epidemic created by the pandemic. Health leaders say the problem is twofold: Nurses are quitting or retiring, exhausted or demoralized by the crisis. And many are leaving for lucrative temporary jobs with traveling-nurse agencies.

Read the story here.

—Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press

Anti-vaccine group targets California’s medical director

The president of California’s medical board, which issues medical licenses and disciplines doctors, says a group of anti-vaccine activists stalked her at home and followed her to her office — where four men confronted her in a dark parking garage in what she described as a terrifying experience.

Kristina Lawson, a former mayor of Walnut Creek who was appointed to the board by former Gov. Jerry Brown, said in social media on Wednesday she grew concerned Monday after she noticed the people in a white SUV parked near her home and saw someone flying a drone over her house.

Lawson said that when she left the office building and entered the parking garage later that evening, four men jumped out of the SUV with cameras and recording equipment and confronted her.

Read the story here.

—Olga R. Rodriguez, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Teens ages 16 and 17 are strongly encouraged to get boosters, the CDC's chief said yesterday as she lifted the last hurdle. New research is showing stark differences in new infections between those who get boosters and those who don't. Here's how to find the shots in Washington state.

Amtrak will cut service because it won't have enough workers to run its trains after a vaccine mandate takes effect next month, the company says.

Long COVID is destroying careers and bank accounts. Some 750,000 to 1.3 million Americans are estimated to remain so sick for extended periods that they can’t return to work full time, medical specialists say. Behind those numbers are heartbreaking stories.

Brian Patnoe never saw his nurses' faces behind their masks when he was fighting for his life in March 2020. But that didn't matter when he returned to thank them for keeping him alive: "I saw all the eyes and I was like, ‘I know you, I know you, I know you.'" Then, along with other COVID-19 survivors who gathered at a California hospital for an emotional reunion yesterday, he added his contribution to a pandemic time capsule.

—Kris Higginson