Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, December 11, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 U.S. National Guard is assisting medical staff in COVID-19 ridden hospitals all over the country. Unvaccinated people who became sick with the virus are overwhelming health care systems, particularly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. The U.S. is nearing 800,000 COVID-19 deaths while about 40% of the country’s residents remain unvaccinated.
Health officials warned for months about a possible spike in cases as the winter holidays approached if people did not work to mitigate COVID-19 spread. Now it appears that the country is headed toward a “holiday crisis.”
The seven-day average of hospital COVID-19 admissions rose at least 50% from two weeks earlier in 12 states and Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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.
Telehealth became a lifeline for older Americans. But it still has glitches.
Ben Forsyth had doubts about telehealth.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, he was wary of trekking by subway from Brooklyn to see his palliative care doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. The prospect of entering a hospital and sitting in a waiting room troubled him, too.
But when his doctor, Helen Fernandez, suggested a video visit to monitor his chronic kidney disease and other conditions, “I wasn’t sure how it would work,” said Forsyth, 87, a retired internist and university administrator. “Would I feel listened to? Would she be able to elicit information to help with my care?”
Still, he logged on through Mount Sinai’s patient portal (“I wouldn’t say it was completely user-friendly”) on his laptop — and quickly became a convert.
He’s had four video appointments with Fernandez since, along with two in-person visits once he was fully vaccinated. He consulted her remotely when he wintered in Florida; he has also seen his cardiologist and his sleep specialist through telehealth.
Telehealth, also called telemedicine, refers to providing care remotely using technology such as video and phone calls, monitoring devices and patient portals.
“It should be part of the options that people have,” Forsyth said.
Read the full story here.
Socially distant wrestling: Young athletes ‘robbed’ by COVID rules
NEW YORK — Isaias Torres and Adner Ramirez squared off to help their coach demonstrate the day’s drills — arm grabs and snapdowns — with a quiet intensity that set the tone for the Grand Street Campus High School wrestling team. Soon, all 20 wrestlers were paired off, working on hand fighting and then takedowns, staying focused, not stopping even when a mask slid down or popped off.
Like every athlete participating in a “high risk” sport at a public school in New York City, the wrestlers at Grand Street must be vaccinated, and those participating indoors must wear masks in practice and at competitions. The restrictions seem to have reduced the number of participants around the city; this team normally would have 10 to 15 more students. But the bigger concern is the policy forbidding city students from even competing at tournaments where nonvaccinated athletes are allowed.
It essentially bars city athletes from high-level competitions on Long Island and in Westchester County, proving grounds for the best wrestling programs, and from the state championships, which culminate the season. The city also canceled next month’s prestigious Mayor’s Cup because New York’s Catholic and private school students may not be vaccinated.
Stephen Perez, the coach at Grand Street, said that for wrestling, the masks are almost absurd. The students are vaccinated (not to mention young and fit), and masks can shift and impede breathing during matches. The policy has raised questions, like what happens if a mask comes off during the action.
“There are no timeouts in wrestling,” Perez said. “What does a referee do?”
Read the full story here.
Bottlenecks in COVID-19 booster rollout mean some Oregonians might not get boosters until March
A widespread shortage of health care workers who can get COVID-19 booster shots into the arms of Oregonians could lead to a months-long delay before every eligible resident will be able to get one, the Oregon Health Authority said Friday.
Unless the state is able to speed up the current pace, it could be March before the state meets demand.
“Hospitals are still at capacity in many parts of the state, pharmacies are busy with multiple workstreams, and clinics have large numbers of patients who have delayed needed care and are now needing their time,” Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Erica Heartquist said in an email Friday.
Officials say the pandemic’s toll, especially the latest record summer and fall surge, has overwhelmed the health care system and exhausted many health care workers, causing some to quit.
Heartquist said limited supply also is a contributing factor to Oregon’s slow rollout of boosters, with “isolated instances” of vaccination clinics in the state running out of vaccine and having to wait up to a few days to get more. Heartquist said Oregon is asking for its full per capita allotments of vaccine, and then some on top of that.
Read the full story here.
Amazon program has funneled thousands to anti-vax activists during the pandemic
Groups trying to discourage Americans from getting the coronavirus vaccine have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the efforts from Amazon.
AmazonSmile, a charitable-giving arm that donates a half percent of every purchase from its online store to the nonprofit of a shopper’s choice, gave more than $42,000 to a dozen anti-vaccine nonprofits last year, according a Washington Post analysis of its tax returns.
While it’s a relatively small amount — particularly out of the more than $60 million it shared with nonprofits overall — these groups are able to stretch funds in large part thanks to the nature of spreading viral messages on social media, said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, an advocacy organization that’s focused on fighting vaccine misinformation.
“They are able to do a lot of damage with very little money,” Ahmed said.
Even as Amazon has encouraged its workforce to get vaccinated, it will continue to fund groups that oppose vaccination, spokeswoman Stacey Keller said in an emailed statement.
“We respect that our customers have a wide variety of viewpoints on this matter, which is why the charities in question continue to be included in the list of organizations customers can choose from as part of AmazonSmile,” Keller said.
Read the full story here.
How Philadelphia achieved high vaccination rate for health workers
While the national vaccine mandate for health care workers remains mired in the federal courts, government officials say there is ample proof that requirements work — and do not cause a mass exodus of employees that some critics had feared.
Philadelphia, which issued a vaccine mandate in August, would seem to be a case in point. Virtually all hospital employees there are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a group of local hospitals that met last week with officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which issued the national rule. About 95% of nursing home employees are also fully vaccinated, according to the city health department, compared with an average of 75% across the country.
With several states, including Pennsylvania, reporting sharp increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and the arrival of the new omicron variant, vaccine protection for health care workers is once again a critical tool.
Read more about vaccine requirements here.
With delta surges and the threat of omicron, states call on military medics to relieve hospital staff
Coronavirus cases, driven almost entirely by the delta variant, continue to surge across the United States, defying previous patterns, causing military medical backup to be called into action and creating large case loads in some highly vaccinated states.
Cases in Colorado rose by 4% in the past week, according to a Washington Post analysis. Hospitalizations in Michigan and New Mexico jumped by 4% and 9%, respectively. Michigan has more hospitalizations per 100,000 residents than any other state. And in New York, where hospitalizations have shot up by more than a third since Thanksgiving, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul introduced a mask mandate Friday for all indoor public places in New York that do not require proof of full vaccination. The requirement starts Monday and will be reevaluated Jan. 15.
Several hospitals in New Mexico are operating under crisis standards because of staffing and capacity shortages, according to local news reports. In early November, more than half of the patients admitted to San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, N.M., had covid-19, the hospital said in a statement. On Nov. 3, the hospital declared crisis standards of care, which allowed the institution to request aid from the state and federal governments as resources ran short.
In other parts of the country, such as Minnesota, the surge has been sustained for months instead of spiking and then sinking, creating enduring pressures on hospital infrastructure and staff.
“We are seeing the toll here after you have worked for four solid months, 12 hours a day, it’s like being on the front lines of a war,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. The reasons for the different shapes of surges mystify epidemiologists.
“Why are we in the fourth month of surge? I can’t explain it for the life of me,” Osterholm said.
Read the full story here.
Most Americans support religious exemptions to vaccination but say they’re overused, survey finds
A slim majority of American adults support religious exemptions to coronavirus vaccine mandates, but most also say that too many people are using their faith as an excuse to avoid immunization, a new survey found.
The poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core found that 51% of adults favor letting people opt out of vaccination requirements for religious reasons. But 59% say too many people are leaning on faith to request exemptions. That percentage includes majorities of every major religious group except White evangelical Protestants and other Protestants of color.
Sixty percent of people also say there are no valid religious reasons to refuse vaccination.
The findings, released Thursday, reveal the latest public opinion on religious exemptions as companies and state and local governments navigate loaded debates about when to grant the requests. Roughly 40% of Americans are not fully immunized, even though health officials maintain that widespread vaccination is key to ending the pandemic. For more about the survey's results, read the full story here.
Vaccine holdouts in U.S. military approach 40,000 even as omicron variant fuels call for boosters
The number of active-duty U.S. military personnel declining to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by their prescribed deadlines is as high as 40,000, with new Army data showing that, days ahead of its cutoff, three percent of soldiers either have rejected President Joe Biden’s mandate or sought a long-shot exemption.
While overall the vast majority of service members are fully vaccinated, military analysts have characterized the number of refusals and holdouts as a troubling indicator in a rigid, top-down culture where decision-making often is predicated on the understanding that the troops will do as they are told. It also suggests the nation’s divisive politics have influenced a small but significant segment of the Defense Department, historically an apolitical institution.
Military leaders have few options to address the dissent other than to hope that, as waiver requests are denied, more troops will choose to fall in line. The alternative, the Pentagon has said, is to purge the ranks of those failing to meet requirements, though some of those roughly 40,000 service members opting out had already planned to leave the military.
Read the full story here.
France pushes vaccination campaign as virus cases increase
Authorities in France want to accelerate vaccinations against the coronavirus before Christmas as infections surge and more people with COVID-19 seek medical attention.
“People can celebrate Christmas normally, but we must respect the rules…and get vaccinated,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex told public radio outlet France Blue during an interview in the Alsace region late Friday.
France has registered a daily average of more than 44,000 new cases over the last week, a 36% increase from the previous week, according to the latest government figures. Weekly hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 went up 1,120, a 41% rise.
The government on Monday closed nightclubs until Jan.6 and tightened social distancing measures in closed spaces and outdoors. Castex said the government is not considering another lockdown that would limit or prohibit public events and social gatherings. Read more about France's vaccine drive here.
South African doctors see signs omicron is milder than delta
As the omicron variant sweeps through South Africa, Dr. Unben Pillay is seeing dozens of sick patients a day. Yet he hasn’t had to send anyone to the hospital.
That’s one of the reasons why he, along with other doctors and medical experts, suspect that the omicron version really is causing milder COVID-19 than delta, even if it seems to be spreading faster.
“They are able to manage the disease at home,” Pillay said of his patients. “Most have recovered within the 10 to 14-day isolation period.” said Pillay.
And that includes older patients and those with health problems that can make them more vulnerable to becoming severely ill from a coronavirus infection, he said.
Taiwan records first omicron case in traveler from Africa
Taiwan has recorded its first case of the omicron variant in a passenger who recently traveled to the southern African country of Eswatini, health officials said Saturday.
The passenger, a Taiwanese woman in her 30s who returned on Dec. 8, is now in quarantine in hospital, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center, which is in charge of the island’s pandemic response. Passengers who sat near her on the plane have tested negative so far.
Taiwan reported 10 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, all of which were identified in travelers entering from abroad. Read more here.
As scientists race to understand the omicron variant, misinformation has already sprinted ahead
In July, a fake slide deck with the logos of the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum purporting to show a schedule for when coronavirus variants would be “released” rocketed around social media, racking up thousands of likes on Twitter and Instagram.
Anti-vaccine influencers posted the image, citing it as proof that the pandemic was orchestrated by powerful interests, and that new variants of the disease were all part of a shadowy plan.
Fast forward to the end of November, when South African scientists identified the omicron variant and warned that it had a high number of mutations. While public health officials around the world cautioned people not to jump to conclusions before the variant could be studied more closely, the fake image recirculated on social media, posted by people adamant that omicron was just the next step of a global conspiracy.
The new strains of misinformation are the latest wrinkle in what has been a yearslong battle between social media companies and those taking advantage of a global thirst for knowledge and facts in the face of a void of information. While platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have banned coronavirus and vaccine misinformation, instead attempting to promote authoritative information from the government, it continues to spread. Read the full story here.
UK scientists urge more restrictions to fight omicron surge
The British government may need to introduce tougher restrictions to slow the growth of the omicron variant and prevent a new surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, British scientists said Saturday.
U.K. health officials say omicron is spreading much more quickly than the delta strain and is likely to replace it and become the dominant variant in Britain within days. The U.K. recorded 58,194 coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest number since January, though what portion were the omicron variant is unclear.
Concerns about the new variant led Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to reintroduce restrictions that were lifted almost six months ago. Masks must be worn in most indoor settings, vaccine certificates must be shown to enter nightclubs and people are being urged to work from home if possible.
Many scientists say that’s unlikely to be enough.
Read the full story here.
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