Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, December 13, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 health officials reported the first case of omicron in Whatcom County Friday, making it the fourth county in the state to report at least one case of the newest COVID-19 variant.

Though much remains unknown about the variant, health officials reported that the variant spreads more easily than previous COVID variants, according to the CDC.

The emergence of the new variant has bolstered conversations over booster doses. On Friday, the Pentagon said there are “active discussions” about making booster shots mandatory for service members.

Meanwhile, up to 40,000 active-duty U.S. military personnel — making up 3% of soldiers — have declined to be vaccinated just days before Wednesday’s deadline.

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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COVID cases continue to decline in Washington state, but hospitals remain stretched thin

COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations remain on a slow, steady decline in Washington state, but other types of patients still streaming into heath care facilities are filling them to near capacity, hospital leaders said Monday.

Hospital beds throughout the state are, on average, about 91% full, with COVID patients taking up about 10%, according to state Department of Health data.

“This problem is not primarily being driven by COVID,” said Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, during a Monday news briefing. “Right now, our biggest concern is a severe lack of hospital capacity. Our hospitals are bursting at the seams.”

For months, acute-care beds have been taken up by patients who don’t need hospital care, delaying procedures that are “vitally important to the health of our community members,” Briley said.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama
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By the numbers: striking, sobering stats of the coronavirus’s toll on the United States

The United States has hit another ugly milestone in the fight against the coronavirus, with 1 in 100 people ages 65 years or older having died of it, The New York Times reports.

It’s merely the latest in a string of data points that put the toll of the pandemic in stark relief — even as much of the political debate over the virus seems to be moving past it, despite a steady toll of more than 1,000 deaths per day.

While Republicans have long opposed mask and vaccine requirements and argued against other coronavirus mitigation measures, even some prominent Democrats are moving in a similar direction. Two Senate Democrats voted against President Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large businesses last week, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) this weekend signaled that he won’t mandate masks statewide, saying, “We see it as the end of the medical emergency. Frankly, people who want to be protected [have gotten vaccinated]. Those who get sick, it’s almost entirely their own darn fault.”

Republicans, meanwhile, often speak of the pandemic in something amounting to the past tense. “Real America is done with #COVID19,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted this month. “The only people who don’t understand that are [Anthony] Fauci and [President Joe] Biden.”

Read the full story here.

—Aaron Blake, The Washington Post

Flight attendants blame airport drinking for stoking mask anger

U.S. flight attendants are calling on airports to limit passengers’ access to alcohol before flights, saying the free flow of liquor is fueling clashes once planes are in the air.

“We’ve seen an increase in the pushing of alcohol to try and get sales up,” Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson said, citing data showing the number of incidents soaring. Airports are “sending the wrong message about people drinking right up to the second they get on the plane, and even that they can take that alcohol onto the plane.”

While a zero-tolerance policy and improved messaging have had some impact slowing a surge in in-flight disruptions, airports have failed to discourage excessive drinking, Nelson said at an International Air Transport Association conference last week. Southwest and American have banned on-board alcohol sales to economy passengers through at least January after lobbying from groups including the AFA.

The comments from Nelson, whose group represents U.S. cabin crews, may help to further efforts to limit “to-go” alcohol sales at airports. Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon have called on airport bars to stop selling such drinks for takeaway.

Read the full story here.

—Christopher, Jasper Bloomberg

State health officials confirm 798 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 798 new coronavirus cases and 26 new deaths on Monday.

The update brings the state's totals to 793,757 cases and 9,580 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. Sunday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on weekends.

In addition, 43,844, people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 174 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 177,187 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,114 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,340,273 doses and 62.2% 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 43,802 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.

—Amanda Zhou
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Ex-NFL player Bellamy gets 3 years for COVID relief fraud

Former NFL player Josh Bellamy has been sentenced to three years and one month in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining over $1.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds.

Bellamy, 32, of St. Petersburg, Florida, was sentenced Friday in Tampa federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Besides serving prison time, Bellamy must also pay restitution.

Bellamy most recently played for the New York Jets, who released him from the reserve/physically unable to play list in September 2020, just days before his arrest. He signed a two-year deal worth $5 million with New York in 2019 and played in seven games before injuring a shoulder and being placed on the season-ending injured reserve list.

According to court records, Bellamy obtained a Paycheck Protection Program loan of $1.2 million for his company, Drip Entertainment LLC, using falsified documents and false information. Bellamy admitted to using the loan proceeds on personal items, such as jewelry and a stay at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Bellamy also sought loans on behalf of his family members and close associates.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Philadelphia to require vaccine proof for indoor dining

Philadelphia will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination to dine indoors at bars, restaurants, indoor sporting events and other food-related establishments starting Jan. 3, city and public health officials announced Monday.

Public Health Director Cheryl Bettigole said Philadelphia has seen infection rates double in the last few weeks and hospitalizations increase by about 50%.

With colder weather driving people indoors and more holiday gatherings expected, Bettigole and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the proof of vaccination mandate is meant to decrease the chance of transmission while preventing a shutdown of indoor dining like the closures in 2020, early in the pandemic.

Philadelphia is among a growing number of cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City, requiring people show proof of vaccination to enter various types of businesses and venues.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Justices won’t block vaccine mandate for NY health workers

The Supreme Court refused Monday to halt a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for health care workers in New York that does not offer an exemption for religious reasons.

The court acted on emergency appeals filed by doctors, nurses and other medical workers who say they are being forced to choose between their jobs and religious beliefs.

As is typical in such appeals, the court did not explain its order, although it has similarly refused to get in the way of vaccine mandates elsewhere.

Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. “Now, thousands of New York healthcare workers face the loss of their jobs and eligibility for unemployment benefits,” Gorsuch wrote in a 14-page opinion that Alito joined.

New York is one of just three states, along with Maine and Rhode Island, that do not accommodate health care workers who object to the vaccine on religious grounds.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Merck’s COVID pill might pose risks for pregnant women

A new COVID-19 pill from Merck has raised hopes that it could transform the landscape of treatment options for Americans at high risk of severe disease at a time when the omicron variant of the coronavirus is driving a surge of cases in highly vaccinated European countries.

But two weeks after a Food and Drug Administration expert committee narrowly voted to recommend authorizing the drug, known as molnupiravir, the FDA is still weighing Merck’s application. Among the biggest questions facing regulators is whether the drug, in the course of wreaking havoc on the virus’s genes, also has the potential to cause mutations in human DNA.

Scientists are especially worried about pregnant women, they said, because the drug could affect a fetus’s dividing cells, theoretically causing birth defects. Members of the FDA expert committee expressed those same concerns during a public meeting Nov. 30.

“Do we want to reduce the risk for the mother by 30% while exposing the embryo and the fetus to a much higher risk of harm by this drug?” Dr. James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College in Tennessee, said at the meeting. “My answer is no, and there is no circumstance in which I would advise a pregnant woman to take this drug.”

Read the story here.

—Benjamin Mueller, The New York Times

Hungary’s media, health experts seek more COVID-19 data

As coronavirus infections and deaths soar in Hungary, the country’s journalists and public health professionals are demanding more detailed data on the outbreak from the government, with some experts saying that greater transparency might boost lagging vaccination rates.

Information is often hard to find in the country of over 9 million people, where infection rates have broken records and daily deaths per capita are among the highest in the world.

Although Hungary has secured vaccine doses from China and Russia in addition to those provided by the European Union, nearly a third of its adults still have not received a single shot. That hesitancy is something immunologist Andras Falus said can be partly attributed to official communications about the pandemic being “extremely poor, inconsistent and totally incapable of maintaining trust.”

“A significant proportion of the population no longer believes when they receive real data, or resign themselves to not paying attention to the data because they feel almost viscerally that it is inconsistent and unreliable,” said Falus, professor emeritus at Semmelweis University in Budapest.

On Friday, the government’s official coronavirus website reported 166 daily deaths, 6,884 new infections and 6,939 virus patients being treated in hospitals, 573 of whom were on ventilators.

Read the story here.

—Justin Spike, The Associated Press

Condition, location unknown for Washington state lawmaker who said he was diagnosed with COVID

No information has been made available for weeks about the location or condition of Republican state Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, since he was reportedly in a Florida hospital being treated for COVID-19.

Ericksen wrote to legislative colleagues in November saying he tested positive for COVID-19 in El Salvador and needed monoclonal antibodies.

He arranged a medevac flight from El Salvador that weekend, former state Rep. Luanne Van Werven said.

Van Werven said the next week that Ericksen was recovering at a Florida hospital. Van Werven told The Bellingham Herald on Friday she had no new information and it would be best to contact Ericksen’s family.

The Herald has tried multiple times to reach the family.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Russia backs down from unpopular COVID restrictions

Russian authorities on Monday backed away from introducing some of the restrictions for the unvaccinated that were announced a month ago and elicited public outrage all across the vast country where vaccine uptake remains low.

The speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament house, on Monday announced the withdrawal of a bill restricting access to domestic and international flights and trains to those who have been fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from COVID-19 or are medically exempt from vaccination.

The bill was among two introduced a month ago, as Russia was struggling with its deadliest and largest surge of COVID-19, which came amid low vaccination rates, lax public attitudes to taking precautions and few restrictions.

Read the story here.

—Dasha Litvinova, The Associated Press

South African president tests positive for COVID, mildly ill

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is receiving treatment for mild COVID-19 symptoms after testing positive for the disease Sunday, his office said.

Ramaphosa started feeling unwell and a test confirmed COVID-19, a statement from the presidency announced.

Ramaphosa, 69, is fully vaccinated. The statement didn’t say whether he had been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant.

Last week, Ramaphosa visited four West African countries. Some in the delegation tested positive in Nigeria and returned directly to South Africa. Throughout the rest of the trip, Ramaphosa and his delegation tested negative. Ramaphosa returned from Senegal on Dec. 8

Read the story here.

—Andrew Meldrum, The Associated Press

Britons rush to get shots in booster blitz against omicron

Long lines formed Monday at vaccination centers across England as people heeded the government’s call for all adults to get booster shots to protect themselves against the omicron variant, as the U.K. recorded its first death of a patient infected with omicron.

In a televised announcement late Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everyone 18 and up would be offered a third vaccine dose by Dec. 31 — less than three weeks away, and a month earlier than the previous target.

The British government raised the country’s official coronavirus threat level on Sunday, warning that the rapid spread of omicron “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and health care services.”

U.K. health authorities say omicron cases are doubling every two to three days in Britain, and it will replace delta as the dominant coronavirus strain within days.

Read the story here.

—Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka, The Associated Press
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France: 400 investigations into fake COVID-19 health passes

France has opened 400 investigations into networks providing fake COVID-19 health passes, the interior minister said Sunday, as virus-related hospitalizations rise sharply across the country.

The case of a woman with the virus who died in a Paris regional hospital after showing a false vaccine certificate has drawn attention in French media in recent days. The hospital’s intensive care chief said they would have given the woman immediate antibody treatment had they known that she wasn’t vaccinated.

Authorities have identified several thousand fake COVID-19 health passes in use around France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Sunday on RTL radio. He said some 400 investigations have been opened into peddling fake passes, including some “connected to health professionals.”

With more confirmed infections one day last week than at any point in the pandemic, France is accelerating efforts for booster shots in hopes that is enough to reduce pressure on hospitals.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

AP-NORC poll: Omicron raises COVID worry but not precautions

As the omicron variant sparks worldwide fears of renewed COVID-19 outbreaks, Americans’ worries about infection are again on the rise, but fewer say they are regularly wearing masks or isolating compared with the beginning of the year.

A new poll conducted by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 36% of Americans now say they are very or extremely worried that they or a family member will be infected with the virus, up from 25% who said the same in late October. Another 31% now say they’re somewhat worried.

The percentage saying they are highly worried is slightly lower now than it was in August, as the delta variant was taking hold, and still below the level of concern Americans expressed through much of 2020 as deaths and case counts varied widely across regions and seasons.

Although most of those who are vaccinated still say they’re at least somewhat worried about infections, 55% of those who are unvaccinated say they have little or no worry. Roughly 8 in 10 Democrats say they’re at least somewhat worried, compared with about half of Republicans.

Read the story here.

—Kathleen Foody, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

COVID-19 has killed one of every 100 older Americans. As the U.S. stands on the cusp of surpassing 800,000 deaths from the virus, no group has suffered more. The scale of loss is only now coming into full view. And with older people still falling seriously ill in large numbers, the pandemic's isolation persists for many.

Car-crash deaths soared at an astonishing rate in the first six months of this year. Why? Researchers are explaining how pandemic psychology may be driving a rising recklessness.

Omicron could become the dominant variant this week in parts of Europe, which often provides a pandemic preview for the U.S. It may cause milder illness than earlier variants, but Europe is still seeing reasons to worry. As omicron infections double every two to three days, England is rushing to get a booster shot into every adult by the end of this month. Closer to home, the variant has made its way to a fourth county in Washington state.

—Kris Higginson