Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, Dec. 14, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Relief may be finally on the horizon for pandemic-weary Washingtonians, as the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are due to arrive this week.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had passed independent scientific muster and could be administered as early as Tuesday to health-care workers and other priority recipients.
Similar shipments are headed across the U.S. as the Trump administration prepares a $250 million public-education campaign to convince Americans to get vaccinated.
After reports that Trump and top White House staff would be among the first in line to receive vaccinations, the president reversed that plan. He announced via Twitter people working in the White House will get the vaccine “somewhat later in the program.”
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.
Renton City Council shows the door to homeless shelter in local hotel
Renton City Council passed emergency legislation Monday night that tightens city regulations around where and how homeless shelters can operate, and will require over 200 homeless people temporarily living in a local hotel to move — half of them by June 2021, and the remaining half by January 2022.
The 5-2 vote is the culmination of months of legal fighting between the King County government, which paid to move the hotel residents out of a crowded shelter in downtown Seattle after COVID-19 hit, and Renton’s City Hall and business leaders, who complain that the county saddled them with mentally ill or troublesome individuals who are hurting nearby businesses and scaring Renton residents.
But the vote worries some advocates who see it as an indication that Seattle’s suburbs might not be willing to cooperate on a still-forming plan to work on homelessness regionally.
For more than 90 minutes, dozens of Renton residents and advocates for homeless people weighed in via public comment on Zoom — many against the ordinance. Several pointed out that the hotel residents’ lives have greatly improved since moving from a crowded shelter to individual rooms.
Pandemic backlash jeopardizes public health powers, leaders
Across the United States, state and local public health officials have found themselves at the center of a political storm as they combat the worst pandemic in a century. Amid a fractured federal response, the usually invisible army of workers charged with preventing the spread of infectious diseases has become a public punching bag. Their expertise on how to fight the coronavirus is often disregarded.
Some have become the target of far-right activists, conservative groups and anti-vaccination extremists who have coalesced around common goals: fighting mask orders, quarantines and contact tracing with protests, threats and personal attacks.
The backlash has moved beyond the angry fringe. In the courts, public health powers are being undermined. Lawmakers in at least 24 states have crafted legislation to weaken public health powers, which could make it more difficult for communities to respond to other health emergencies in the future.
“What we’ve taken for granted for 100 years in public health is now very much in doubt,” said Lawrence Gostin, an expert in public health law at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
It is a further erosion of the nation’s already fragile public health infrastructure. At least 181 state and local public health leaders in 38 states have resigned, retired or been fired since April 1, according to an ongoing investigation by The Associated Press and KHN. According to experts, this is the largest exodus of public health leaders in American history.
In their own words: Public health officials on the frontline
Public health officials work to keep the nation safe and healthy, overseeing everything from water inspections to childhood immunizations.
They typically work behind the scenes, but the coronavirus pandemic has thrust many into the spotlight. Sharp political divisions in the United States have prompted a backlash. Many public health officials face harassment, threats and lawsuits, all while working to battle the COVID-19 onslaught.
For some, the constant pressure and pushback has become too much. An investigation by The Associated Press and KHN found that at least 181 state and local public health leaders in 38 states have resigned, retired or been fired since the beginning of the pandemic, the largest exodus of public health leaders in U.S. history. In addition, there are now efforts to strip their governmental health powers, both in state legislatures and the courts.
The AP and KHN spoke with public health officials around the country about the challenges they have faced this year as they do their work.
Pandemic prompts scaled back Christmas tradition in Alaska
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — On a tiny speck of a frozen runway on the north bank of the Yukon River, nearly a hundred miles northwest of Fairbanks, Christmas was delivered in a most unusual way.
An Alaska National Guard helicopter descended through a rotor-whipped cloud of snow in Stevens Village, a tiny community of about 30 people. Townspeople rushed to the airstrip on their snowmobiles after seeing the helicopter land and then watched as Guardsmen wearing flight helmets unloaded boxes containing wrapped gifts for just about everyone in the community.
Then they flew off.
This year’s edition of Operation Santa Claus didn’t have the pomp and grandeur of previous incarnations, but the mission of delivering gifts here and two other largely Alaska Native villages was completed with COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
“For 65 years we have not missed a beat,” said Chief Master Sgt. Winfield Hinkley, Jr., command senior enlisted leader of the Alaska National Guard.
“And I will tell you, COVID is rough,” he said, “but it will not stop us from carrying out this tradition. It is an honor to do it.”
US vaccinations ramp up as feds weigh second COVID-19 shot
WASHINGTON — Hundreds more U.S. hospitals will begin vaccinating their workers Tuesday as federal health officials review a second COVID-19 shot needed to boost the nation’s largest vaccination campaign.
Packed in dry ice to stay at ultra-frozen temperatures, shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine are set to arrive at 400 additional hospitals and other distribution sites, one day after the nation’s death toll surpassed a staggering 300,000. The first 3 million shots are being strictly rationed to front-line health workers and elder-care patients, with hundreds of millions more shots needed over the coming months to protect most Americans.
The Food and Drug Administration is set to publish its analysis of a second rigorously studied COVID-19 vaccine, which could soon join Pfizer-BioNTech’s in the fight against the pandemic. If FDA advisers give it a positive recommendation on Thursday, the agency could greenlight the vaccine from drugmaker Moderna later this week.
A second vaccine can’t come soon enough as the country’s daily death count continues to top 2,400 amid over 210,000 new daily cases, based on weekly averages of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The devastating toll is only expected to grow in coming weeks, fueled by holiday travel, family gatherings and lax adherence to basic public health measures.
First vaccination in US is given in New York, hard hit in outbreak’s first days
NEW YORK — The first coronavirus vaccination in the United States took place on Monday morning in Queens, state officials said, signaling a turning point in the battle against a pandemic that has profoundly scarred New York, killing more than 35,000 people and severely weakening the economy.
Sandra Lindsay, a nurse and the director of patient services in the intensive care unit at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, received the shot — the first known clinically authorized inoculation outside of a vaccine trial — shortly after 9:20 a.m. during a news conference with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
That the vaccine was administered in Queens, one of the first areas in the country to feel the brunt of the virus, seemed a fitting coincidence. That the recipient was a nurse made for a powerful tribute to the front-line health care workers who have witnessed the virus’s deadly toll.
“I’ve been hopeful today,” said Lindsay, whose vaccination drew applause. “I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end in a very painful time in our history.”
States count on an index for vaccinating those most in need
As states get the first 2.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, some are turning to a planning tool used for natural disasters to make sure their most vulnerable residents aren’t overlooked.
Because of the limited supply of doses, at least 26 states and Washington, D.C., will rely on what’s known as the Social Vulnerability Index, or SVI, to determine who should be immunized. The SVI tries to account for social, economic, racial and ethnic factors, and it might help health-care officials figure out whom to prioritize for vaccination.An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that health-care workers and nursing-home residents get shots first, followed by those with pre-existing medical conditions.
The thinking is that because ethnic and racial minorities are overrepresented in those groups, the plan will be equitable. But health-care experts and government officials, including President-elect Joe Biden, say that plan will miss too many people who are poor, Black, Latino or members of other minority or disadvantaged groups.
“Even if just 10% of states decide to use the index, it makes a big difference,” said Harald Schmidt, assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy in the University of Pennsylvania, who recently co-authored an analysis of equitable vaccine allocation. “Everybody is still trying to figure out this equity piece, and I’m hopeful we will see quite a bit of change.”
The question many states now face is how exactly to ensure that these group are accounted for in immunization plans.
As COVID-19 spreads in Washington’s prisons, advocates call for better conditions, release of inmates
OLYMPIA — With COVID-19 outbreaks springing up in Washington prisons, community advocates on Monday called for corrections officials to release more inmates and improve the conditions of their facilities.
The state Department of Corrections (DOC) avoided widespread outbreaks early in the pandemic, until hundreds of people were sickened in Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in late spring and summer.
Now, outbreaks are spreading at prisons across the state, including Airway Heights Corrections Center in Spokane County, Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Mason County, and Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County.
There were 1,449 active COVID-19 cases among prisoners as of Monday, according to DOC’s website. Last week, a male inmate at Stafford Creek died of COVID-19, the fourth coronavirus-related death of a state inmate.
EXPLAINER: What to know about COVID-19 vaccination in the US
NEW YORK — The first shots of COVID-19 vaccine are being delivered, but it will likely be months before doses are widely available for everyone at U.S. drugstores and doctor’s office.
Details are still being worked out, but officials expect widespread availability by the middle of next year. A second coronavirus vaccine is being reviewed this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and others are in development.
Even with vaccination, you’ll still need to take precautions, like wearing a mask and social distancing, health officials say. That’s because there’s still some unknowns, including how much it reduces spread or how long protection lasts.
Google delays return to office and eyes ‘flexible workweek’
OAKLAND, Calif. — With the pandemic still in full swing and the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine just starting to ship in the United States, Google has pushed back the planned return to the office by a few months, to September 2021.
But even as it extends the remote work period for most of its staff, Google is laying out a series of proposed changes that may substantially alter how its employees and people at other technology companies will work.
In an email to the staff on Sunday night, Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said the company was testing the idea of a “flexible workweek” once it is safe to return to the office. Under the pilot plan, employees would be expected to work at least three days a week in the office for “collaboration days” while working from home the other days.
“We are testing a hypothesis that a flexible work model will lead to greater productivity, collaboration, and well-being,” Pichai wrote in an email obtained by The New York Times. “No company at our scale has ever created a fully hybrid workforce model — though a few are starting to test it — so it will be interesting to try.”
Google has offices in Seattle’s South Lake Union and Fremont neighborhoods, as well as in Kirkland, with about 4,500 employees as of a year ago.
Strip club still open while California vows legal action
SAN DIEGO — A San Diego strip club kept on offering live adult entertainment over the weekend despite a warning from California’s attorney general, who has vowed to take legal action if the business does not close to comply with the state’s stay-at-home order that was issued this month.
Jason Saccuzzo, the lawyer for Pacers Showgirls International, said Monday that a court order issued last month makes it clear the business is protected from restrictions issued by San Diego County and state officials.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a cease-and-desist letter sent to Pacers and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club last Friday that they are violating the state’s new stay-at-home policy, which bars indoor and outdoor dining and prohibits social gatherings that bring together people of different households in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Becerra wrote that he was acting on behalf of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and the California Department of Public Health and that he will pursue legal action if the companies don’t comply.
Pacers’ lawyer said he planned to reach out to the state Monday to get clarity.
Democrats squeezed as COVID-19 relief talks continue
WASHINGTON — Top Washington negotiators continued to reach for a long-delayed agreement on COVID-19 relief on Monday, but rank-and-file Democrats appeared increasingly resigned to having to drop, for now, a scaled-back demand for fiscal relief for states and local governments whose budgets have been thrown out of balance by the pandemic.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by phone Monday evening and continues to press for help for struggling states and localities. But top Democratic allies of President-elect Joe Biden came out in support of a $748 billion plan offered by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and hinted they won’t insist on a pitched battle for state and local aid now.
“We cannot afford to wait any longer to act. This should not be Congress’ last COVID relief bill, but it is a strong compromise that deserves support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. “We cannot leave for the holidays without getting relief to those Americans who need it.”
The message from Coons, a confidant of Biden, and a similar message from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., came as a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a detailed COVID-19 aid proposal on Monday in hopes it would serve as a model for their battling leaders to follow as they try to negotiate a final agreement.
Health officials confirm 1,734 new coronavirus cases in Washington
Washington health officials on Monday evening reported an additional 1,734 coronavirus cases and 39 deaths, a count that the state said could include up to 2,000 duplicate cases.
The latest update brings the state’s totals to 203,797 total cases and 2,918 deaths, meaning 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Because DOH no longer reports COVID-related deaths on the weekends, tallies for deaths may be higher early in the week.
The DOH's method of reporting new cases each day differs from that of The Times, which is today’s total reported cases minus the previous day’s total. (According to the DOH’s cumulative cases count, yesterday saw 1,921 new cases, as opposed to the 1,734 the Times has calculated.)
The DOH says its daily case reports may 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.
On Monday, DOH also reported that 12,649 people had been hospitalized in the state due to the virus.
In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 54,535 COVID-19 diagnoses and 918 deaths.
Monday's numbers "should be interpreted with caution," DOH noted, explaining that negative test results data from Nov. 21 through Monday are incomplete, as are positive test results from Friday to Sunday.
Interest is lively at deadline for ‘Obamacare’ sign-ups
A crush of sign-ups expected Tuesday on the last day of open enrollment for HealthCare.gov could help solidify the standing of “Obamacare” as an improbable survivor in the Donald Trump years.
In 36 states that use HealthCare.gov,- Dec. 15 is deadline day for coverage that starts Jan. 1, while another 14 states and Washington, D.C., have later dates. Analysts and advocates who follow the annual insurance sign-ups say interest has gotten stronger with the coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation.
“The safety net is working,” said Chris Sloan of the consulting firm Avalere Health. When final numbers are released next year, Sloan says the ACA could surpass its current enrollment of 11.4 million people. “I think it’s just reflective of the need being greater for people who have lost their jobs and need to find some other form of health insurance,” he said.
Scientists pinpoint genes common among people with severe coronavirus infections
Certain gene variants are linked to severe coronavirus infections, according to a team of scientists in Europe who studied the genomes of 2,200 critically ill COVID-19 patients. Their results provide robust support that genetic makeup plays a role in the potentially fatal illness experienced by some people infected by the coronavirus.
Diving into people’s DNA is an approach that could help answer one of the pandemic’s biggest mysteries: Why do some people have mild coronavirus cases, or no symptoms at all, while others rapidly fall ill and die? Evidence is clear that older age and underlying conditions are risk factors for increased COVID-19 severity. But genetic predispositions to runaway inflammation or other harmful immune responses could also contribute to worse disease.
Baillie and his colleagues pinpointed eight spots on chromosomes — five of which strongly held up under further scrutiny — where variants were more common among people in intensive care. Some of the genes contain instructions for anti-viral components of the immune system, suggesting flaws in a person’s microscopic defenses that therapeutics might fix, at least in theory.
California subpoenas Amazon over worker safety in pandemic
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Monday asked a judge to order Amazon to comply with subpoenas his office issued nearly four months ago as part of an investigation into how the company is protecting workers from the coronavirus at its facilities.
Becerra said the online sales giant hasn’t provided enough information on its coronavirus safety steps and the status of infections and deaths at its shipping facilities across California. The attorney general is President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to be the first Latino to lead the Health and Human Services Department.
“We’re investigating because we got reports, information, complaints about conditions, incidents,” Becerra said.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment left through an email that the company provides for members of the media.
US COVID-19 deaths top 300,000 just as vaccinations begin
The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 300,000 Monday just as the country began dispensing COVID-19 shots in a monumental campaign to conquer the outbreak.
The number of dead rivals the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh. It is equivalent to repeating a tragedy on the scale of Hurricane Katrina every day for 5 1/2 months. It is more than five times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. It is equal to a 9/11 attack every day for more than 100 days.
“The numbers are staggering — the most impactful respiratory pandemic that we have experienced in over 102 years, since the iconic 1918 Spanish flu,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said days before the milestone.
The U.S. crossed the threshold on the same day health care workers rolled up their sleeves for Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot, marking the start of the biggest vaccination campaign in American history. If a second vaccine is authorized soon, as expected, 20 million people could be immunized by month’s end.
White House official recovering after 3-month hospitalization, amputation of leg from COVID, friend says
A White House official who fell ill with COVID-19 in September is recovering after three months in the hospital, though he lost his right foot and lower leg in his battle against the virus, according to a friend.
Crede Bailey, the director of the White House security office, was the most severely ill among dozens of covid-19 cases known to be connected to the White House. Bailey’s family has asked the White House not to publicize his condition, and President Donald Trump has never publicly acknowledged his illness.
Bailey’s friends have raised more than $30,000 for his rehabilitation through a GoFundMe account. The White House declined to say whether Trump has contributed to the effort.
“Crede beat COVID-19 but it came at a significant cost: his big toe on his left foot as well as his right foot and lower leg had to be amputated,” Dawn McCrobie, who organized the GoFundMe effort for Bailey, wrote Dec. 7.
Bailey is now at a rehabilitation center and will be fitted for a prosthetic leg in the coming months, she wrote.
In Paris, restaurants, bistros and bars plead for work, aid
Wearing his tall white chef’s hat, French chef Michel Solignac, 63, joined a protest Monday in Paris by bosses and workers from France’s catering, hotel, event management and other service industries battered by the pandemic year, when the world-famous pleasures they offer have largely been put on hold in the name of curbing infections.
Ranging from mournful wedding organizers and out-of-work cocktail waiters to distraught chefs and anxious hotel directors, the crowd of around 1,000 people pleaded for respite, for more financial aid from the government and, for those forced by the government to close, to be allowed to earn a living again.
The government has indicated that restaurants and bars might be allowed to reopen from Jan. 20 if infections don’t surge again. But the economy minister said Monday that he couldn’t guarantee that the date will hold.
COVID-19 vaccine wasn’t tested in pregnancy, but experts say it’s still worth considering if you’re expecting
As health-care workers begin receiving Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine starting this week, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee has recommended that pregnant workers — a group typically excluded from vaccine trials — still be allowed to decide with their doctors whether to receive the vaccine.
Johns Hopkins University researchers noted in STAT News last week that an estimated 330,000 in this workforce “will be pregnant or breastfeeding as initial doses of vaccine are being distributed.”
Pregnant women were not included in Pfizer’s vaccine trials earlier this year, but about two dozen people who got the vaccine became pregnant while participating in the studies. None reported complications.
Larger-scale vaccination distribution will inevitably include women who don’t yet know they’re pregnant, or who become pregnant while in between the two-shot vaccine regimen, so the CDC should monitor such women for adverse side effects, said Paul Offit, a member of the advisory panel that recommended emergency approval of the vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration last week.
Offit, a pediatrician who directs the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said that although there were not sufficient data on the vaccine in pregnancy, there is no “real or even theoretical risk for pregnancy or the unborn child,” because of how the Pfizer vaccine is made. Still, for pregnant women unwilling to be inoculated, careful precautions can protect them while the virus continues to rage. “The best thing you can do is mask and social-distance,” he said.
Top US officials expected to get COVID-19 vaccine this week
Senior U.S. officials will begin receiving coronavirus vaccines this week as part of updated federal continuity of government plans that now include terrorism and pandemics as threats to the nation, and its leaders.
The exact number and role of officials set to receive the vaccine is classified, according to senior administration officials. It is not expected to include President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence themselves at this point. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have yet to be informed how many doses they will receive and have yet to develop a vaccination plan, one official said.
Public distribution of the shot is initially limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Gary Seefried, former Ballard High sports star and owner of Sluggers sports bars, dies of COVID-19
Gary Seefried , a former Ballard High sports star, Eastside Catholic baseball coach and owner of Sluggers sports bars, died from complications of COVID-19 which he contracted shortly after moving from the Se attle area to Post Falls, Idaho.
Seefried, who died Dec. 3 at age 75, was one of the better athletes to come out of Seattle in the 1960s, but he didn't let that go to his head.
“He was one heck of a guy,” said Steve Olsen, a friend of Seefried’s since grade school and boys basketball teammate of his at Ballard High School. “He was a great friend and such a positive and happy person. I think that was the most important thing in his life. That was bigger than the athletics to him, because that was how he led his life for the last 40 years. He was a very kind person, unbelievable.”
Scientists focus on bats for clues to prevent next pandemic
Night began to fall in Rio de Janeiro’s Pedra Branca state park as four Brazilian scientists switched on their flashlights to traipse along a narrow trail of mud through dense rainforest. The researchers were on a mission: capture bats and help prevent the next global pandemic.
The November nighttime outing was part of a project at Brazil’s state-run Fiocruz Institute to collect and study viruses present in wild animals — including bats, which many scientists believe were linked to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The goal now is to identify other viruses that may be highly contagious and lethal in humans, and to use that information to devise plans to stop them from ever infecting people — to forestall the next potential global disease outbreak before it gets started.
Turkey announces 4-day curfew over New Year’s to fight virus
Turkey’s president has announced a four-day lockdown starting New Year’s Eve to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the curfew would begin the evening of Dec. 31 and go until the morning of Jan. 4
The government this month re-introduced weekend lockdowns as well as nighttime curfews as Monday’s health ministry statistics showed a record of 229 confirmed new daily deaths, bringing the total death toll to 16,646. The 7-day average of confirmed infections hovers above 30,000, making Turkey one of the worst-hit nations in the world.
First COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Oregon
The first shipment of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine has arrived in Oregon.
Health care workers and nursing home residents will be among the first to be vaccinated. The Oregon Health Authority said Monday the first shipment of vaccine was delivered in Portland.
State officials have said they expect to get 35,100 initial doses from Pfizer this week. Oregon’s total vaccine allotment could be between 197,500 and 228,400 doses, according to statistics from the governor’s office and the health authority.
After 110K virus deaths, nursing homes face vaccine fears
After 110,000 deaths ravaged the nation’s nursing homes and pushed them to the front of the vaccine line, they now face a vexing problem: Skeptical residents and workers balking at getting the shots.
Being first has come with persistent fears that the places hit hardest in the pandemic — accounting for nearly 40% of the nation’s death toll — could be put at risk again by vaccines sped into development in months rather than years. Some who live and work in homes question if the shots could do more harm than good.
“You go get that first and let me know how you feel,” said Denise Schwartz, whose 84-year-old mother lives at an assisted living facility in East Northport, New York, and plans to decline the vaccine. “Obviously it would be horrible for her to get COVID, but is it totally safe for someone who’s elderly and in fragile health?”
Public health officials say the answer is yes.
But the undercurrent of doubt in nursing homes persists, sometimes fueled by divisive politics, distrust of institutions and misinformation.
Canada administers first doses of COVID-19 vaccine
Canada administered its first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, becoming one of the first countries to do so in the effort to beat back the pandemic.
Five front-line workers in Ontario were among the first Canadians to receive the vaccine at one of Toronto’s hospitals. Two nurses and three other workers at the Rekai Centre nursing home received the vaccine.
“This is a victory day for science,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, president and CEO of Toronto’s University Health Network. “Here we are today breaking the back of his horrible virus.”
Families marry off daughters to ease finances amid COVID-19
KOIDU, Sierra Leone (AP) — The man first caught a glimpse of Marie Kamara as she ran with her friends past his house near the village primary school. Soon after, he proposed to the fifth-grader.
“I’m going to school now. I don’t want to get married and stay in the house,” she told him.
But the pressures of a global pandemic on this remote corner of Sierra Leone were greater than the wishes of a schoolgirl. Nearby mining operations had slowed with the global economy. Business fell off at her stepfather’s tailoring shop, where outfits he had sewn now gathered dust. The family needed money.
Her suitor was a small-scale miner in his mid-20s, but his parents could provide rice for Marie’s four younger sisters and access to their watering hole. They could pay cash.
Before long, Marie was seated on a floor mat in a new dress as his family presented hers with 500,000 leones ($50) inside a calabash bowl along with the traditional kola nut.
“The day they paid for me was on a Friday and then I went to his house to stay,” she says flatly, adding that at least now she gets to eat something twice a day.
Many countries had made progress against such traditional and transactional marriages of girls in recent decades, but COVID-19’s economic havoc has caused significant backsliding: The United Nations estimates that hardships resulting from COVID-19 will drive 13 million more girls to marry before the age of 18.
First coronavirus vaccines arrive at UW Medical Center in Seattle
About 3,900 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine arrived at UW Medicine’s Montlake campus Monday morning, among the first to be distributed in Washington state.
These doses will be distributed among UW Medicine’s four hospital campuses.
Hunger study predicts 168,000 pandemic-linked child deaths
Economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has set back decades of progress against the most severe forms of malnutrition and is likely to kill 168,000 children before any global recovery takes hold, according to a study released Monday by 30 international organizations.
The study from the Standing Together for Nutrition Consortium draws on economic and nutrition data gathered this year as well as targeted phone surveys. Saskia Osendarp, who led the research, estimates an additional 11.9 million children — most in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa — will suffer from stunting and wasting, the most severe forms of malnutrition.
Before the pandemic, the number of stunted children declined globally each year, from 199.5 million in 2000 to 144 million in 2019. The number of children suffering from wasting stood at 54 million in 2010 and had dropped to 47 million last year. It’s expected to rise again to 2010 levels, according to the study.
London placed under toughest coronavirus restrictions
London and surrounding areas will be placed under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday as infections rise rapidly in the capital, the British government said Monday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government must take swift action after seeing “very sharp, exponential rises” in Greater London. He said that in some areas, cases are doubling every seven days.
In November, London was among areas with the lowest regional infection rates in England. But some areas in and around London have now become virus hotspots.
Spokane corrections center reports 79 COVID-19 inmate cases
Authorities in Washington state have reported that more than half of the inmates at Geiger Corrections Center have tested positive for COVID-19 and are being kept in isolation and quarantined.
Spokane County Detention Services said that 79 of the 138 inmates at the facility tested positive as of Friday, The Spokesman-Review reported. The Airway Heights facility, located west of Spokane, has capacity for 360 inmates.
Department officials also said that 11 detention center employees tested positive.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
“We’ve really got our focus set right now on our Geiger facility,” Detention Services Director Mike Sparber said. “We have a strategy for downtown, but we’re just not seeing what we’re seeing at Geiger.”
The department had confirmed nine COVID-19 cases in inmates the week before, officials said.
‘Relieved’: US health workers start getting COVID-19 vaccine
The largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history got underway Monday as health workers in select hospitals rolled up their sleeves for shots to protect them from COVID-19 and start beating back the pandemic — a day of optimism even as the nation’s death toll neared 300,000.
“I feel hopeful today. Relieved,” said critical case nurse Sandra Lindsay after getting a shot in the arm at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York.
Shipments of precious frozen vials of vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech began arriving at hospitals around the country Monday.
“This is the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s a long tunnel,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as he watched Lindsay’s vaccination via video.
Several other countries also have OK’d the vaccine, including the U.K., which started vaccinating last week.
For health care workers who, along with nursing home residents, will be first in line for vaccination, hope is tempered by grief and the sheer exhaustion of months spent battling a coronavirus that still is surging in the U.S. and around the world.
AP-NORC poll: America’s virus concerns stable as cases spike
Deaths from the coronavirus pandemic are spiking across the country, yet a new poll finds little increase in alarm among Americans about COVID-19 infections and no significant change in opinion about how the government should act to slow the spread.
The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds about 4 in 10 Americans say they are extremely or very worried about themselves or a family member being infected with the virus, about the same as in October and slightly lower than in surveys conducted in March and in July. Stable majorities continue to favor requirements that people wear masks and limit the size of gatherings.
Support for stay-at-home orders peaked in April, with about 8 in 10 in favor, and has steadily dipped since. Fifty percent now support requiring Americans to stay home except for essential errands, up somewhat from 44% in October. Now 45% favor closing bars and restaurants, just slightly higher than 41% two months ago. About a third of Americans oppose both steps.
“We know our risks. We see what’s happening. We see people dying,” said Sarah Totta, a 36-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri. “But to be honest, I think we knew this was coming in the winter, and I just think you have to manage the risks.”
Some Seattle-area businesses unexpectedly thrive despite COVID-19 pandemic
When the first round of coronavirus restrictions took effect last spring, Arron Kallenberg thought his direct-to-consumer fishmonger, Wild Alaskan Seafood, was in peril.
Shoppers’ runs on grocery stores, he said, caused backlogs at the facilities labeling and packaging his fish — making it harder for Wild Alaskan to get salmon, cod, halibut and other seafood to customers.
The company’s fortunes, though, soon began to turn — not just in spite of the pandemic, but because of it. Thanks to his all-American supply chain, he could beat competitors who relied on imported fish or packing materials, many of whom struggled after the coronavirus dampened foreign trade.
Wild Alaskan is a good example of what might be called a pandemic winner — a business thriving because of new economic realities created by the public health crisis that has devastated so many other businesses, and some whole sectors. Other local winners are not surprising: Microsoft, Amazon, Costco
But there are others, such as fabric and bike shops, that have seen lifts from the pandemic.
Singapore approves use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine
Singapore has approved the use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, and the first shipment will arrive by the end of this month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Monday.
Lee said Singapore, with a budget of over 1 billion Singapore dollars ($750 million) for vaccines, has “placed multiple bets” by signing advance purchase agreements with vaccine makers including Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, Moderna Inc. and China’s Sinovac.
Lee said the vaccines will be given on a voluntary basis and will be free for citizens and long-term residents. He said he and some older Cabinet ministers will be vaccinated early as a demonstration that the vaccines are safe.
Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up
• In a year of darkness, we're drawn to the light, even if that means driving through a parking garage for it. Here's what it's like to visit Starlight Lane, the holiday lights display in Seattle's Lumen Field garage.
• Why holiday movies from childhood never let go of us: Movie critic Moira Macdonald reflects on the film that made her "enormously happy" as a young child — and still does in this time of isolation.
• Quick-cooking brisket bulgogi brings rich Korean flavors to the table. This recipe does an excellent job of balancing sweet, savory and salty.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• "The cavalry is arriving." Hospital workers around the U.S. began unpacking vaccine vials this morning and preparing for the first injections. Washington should get its first shipments today after an independent group of scientists in Western states gave the OK. Strained hospitals here are firing up their engines for the complicated rollout.
• Seattle's "global virology star" is smiling more as he sees the beginning of an end to the pandemic — but he's expecting four tough months first. Dr. Larry Corey, a clinical trials leader, explains what comes next, what we still don’t know about the vaccines, and why even vaccinated people need to wear masks.
• Controversy over who is and isn't getting the vaccine: President Donald Trump last night reversed an order to vaccinate top officials early, after criticism over the mask-flouting White House staff's place near the front of the line. The giant federal marketing campaign has reversed course, too, after early plans to vaccinate celebrities and Santas (deemed "essential workers").
• About 1 in 4 Seattle residents have used the city’s free coronavirus testing sites, which are more important than ever and could soon play a key role in vaccinations. You can see where positive test rates are surging the most in King County, and find a testing site near you with this updating list.
• Timothy Scott didn't hesitate when he got the call to be part of a vaccine trial at Fred Hutch: “We need people that look like me to say ‘it’s worth it, it’s worth saving your life.’” The South King County man is among Black volunteers who are trying to change the course of history by giving the trials a much-needed shot in the arm.
• Americans, unwelcome in many countries, are fleeing lockdowns and flocking to Mexico despite a CDC warning. The resort cities' comeback has taken a painful toll.
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