Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Dec. 16, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Health care workers were the first in Washington to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the University of Washington Medical Center on Tuesday morning, an event that highlighted the complicated emotions of fatigued front-line workers, but also deep concern over what’s to come amid a fall surge in hospitalizations.

Meanwhile, federal negotiators on Tuesday reported progress on the nation’s long-delayed COVID-19 relief bill, a deal that is under intensifying pressure as Dec. 26 — the date unemployment benefits run out for 10 million people — marches closer.

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 and the world.


Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Close but not yet: Deal near on COVID-19 economic aid bill

WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators are closing in on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that would deliver additional help to businesses, $300 per week jobless checks, and $600 stimulus payments to most Americans. But there was no deal quite yet.

The long-delayed measure was coming together as Capitol Hill combatants finally fashioned difficult compromises, often at the expense of more ambitious Democratic wishes for the legislation, to complete the second major relief package of the pandemic.

A hoped-for announcement Wednesday failed to materialize as lawmakers across the spectrum hammered out details of the sprawling legislation and top negotiators continued to trade offers. But lawmakers briefed on the outlines of the aid bill freely shared them.

It’s the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark CARES Act in March, which delivered $1.8 trillion in aid and more generous jobless benefits and direct payments to individuals.

—Associated Press
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California sets records for cases, deaths as virus surges

LOS ANGELES — Two people are dying of COVID-19 every hour in California’s most populous county as the state set daily records for newly reported cases and deaths and hospitals struggle to to keep up with the surge of coronavirus patients.

Most California residents are under a stay-at-home order because of dwindling intensive care unit capacity where they live. Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people, has 2,500 ICU beds but within a month could easily need far more, said Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director.

“Hospitals are under siege and our models show no end in sight,” she said.

Southern California and the Central Valley — regions that together include 23 counties — had exhausted their regular supply of intensive care beds and many medical centers were tapping into their “surge” capacity.

California is averaging more than 35,000 newly reported coronavirus cases a day. Health officials estimate 12% of them — 4,200 — end up in hospitals. Records were set Wednesday, with 53,711 new cases and 293 deaths statewide.

The massive rise in infections began in October and is being blamed largely on people ignoring safety measures and socializing with others. 

—Associated Press

Vaccination in Asia-Pacific expected mid or late 2021

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The World Health Organization said Thursday that countries in the Asia-Pacific region are not guaranteed to have early access to COVID-19 shots and urged them to adopt a long-term approach to the pandemic.

“The development of safe and effective vaccines is one thing. Producing them in adequate quantities and reaching everyone who needs them is another,” WHO Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

While some countries that have independent vaccine purchase agreements might start vaccination campaigns in the coming months, others could see vaccination begin in the middle or late 2021, said Dr. Socorro Escalante, WHO’s coordinator for essential medicines and health technologies.

“It’s important to emphasize that most, if not all, the countries in the Western Pacific region are a part of the COVAX Facility,” said Escalante. “Within the COVAX Facility we are expecting that the vaccines will be coming in on the second quarter of 2021.”

—Associated Press

States grapple with next steps on evictions as crisis grows

Thousands are hoping Oregon extends an eviction moratorium until July 1 in a special legislative session next week. The proposal also would create a $200 million fund mainly to compensate landlords. If passed, it would go further than a one-month extension of a federal eviction moratorium expected in a coronavirus relief package nearing consensus in Congress.

“We are forced to make decisions between which bills to pay — rent, car or groceries,” said Ryan Bowser, adding that he, his pregnant girlfriend and her 10-year-old daughter may have to sleep in their car, stay on friends’ couches or move to another state to crash with distant relatives. “We don’t know if we will have a home next year.”

The plight of Bowser and other renters on the edge foreshadows a national crisis that’s expected to grow next year, with states and cities that granted renters a reprieve amid the coronavirus-battered economy now wrestling with what comes next. While states like Oregon and California are trying to pass much longer moratoriums, some don’t have more protections in the works.

—Associated Press
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Fed leaves rates unchanged and commits to ongoing bond purchases

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials pledged to help the economy through the painful pandemic era, making clear at their final meeting of the year that the central bank will continue cushioning the economy by keeping interest rates at rock-bottom and buying government-backed debt for the foreseeable future.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, speaking at a news conference after the meeting, said the central bank would continue providing economic support “for some time,” adding that the “the next few months are likely to be very challenging.”

The Fed cut interest rates to near-zero in March and has been buying about $120 billion in government-backed debt each month to soothe markets and help goose growth. In its December policy statement, the Fed explicitly tied the central bank’s bond-buying program to its goals of full employment and stable inflation, a move that indicates a longer-term bond-buying campaign given how far the economy remains from meeting those goals.

The committee said the Fed will continue to increase its holdings of Treasury securities at the current pace “until substantial further progress has been made toward the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals.”

Powell said the decision on both bond-buying and interest rates is intended to show that the Fed will “deliver powerful support to the economy until the recovery is complete.”

—The New York Times

State confirms additional 1,525 coronavirus cases and 89 deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,525 new coronavirus cases and 89 new deaths as of Tuesday, including up to 1,300 duplicate cases.

The update brings the state's totals to 214,265 cases and 3,042 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Wednesday's new death tallies may be high due to a backlog of data reported.

In addition, 13,074 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 301 new hospitalizations as of Tuesday.

Wednesday's total cases also include 7,671 "probable cases," a new category of cases that includes people who received a positive antigen test result for COVID-19, but no positive molecular test result. In general, DOH's data dashboard is limited to molecular test results, including PCR testing.

In King County, state health officials have confirmed a total of 55,637 COVID-19 diagnoses and 936 deaths.

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 1,681 new cases, as opposed to the 1,525 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.

—Elise Takahama

California judge extends strip-club exemption from lockdown

SAN DIEGO — Two San Diego strip clubs can remain open and make their own determinations about providing a safe environment for dancers and patrons during the pandemic, a judge ruled Wednesday, dealing a setback to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s health order that calls for such establishments to be shuttered.

The scope of San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil’s preliminary injunction appeared to extend far beyond the two clubs that sued the state to potentially all of the thousands of restaurants in San Diego County, the state’s second-largest county after Los Angeles.

Wohlfiel said it applies to “San Diego County businesses with restaurant services,” including the strip clubs, and that it exempts them from shutdowns and “any related orders” that bar live adult entertainment and go beyond protocols “that are no greater than essential” to controlling the spread of COVID-19.

The judge noted that Pacers International Showgirls and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club operated for five weeks during the pandemic under their own safety measures, which included keeping strippers 15 feet (4.6 meters) from tables, allowing no more than one stripper per stage and requiring them and other employees to wear masks.

—Associated Press
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How effective is the mask you’re wearing? You may know soon.

More than 100,000 varieties of face masks are currently for sale. They come in silk, cotton and synthetics; with filters and without; over-the-head and over-the-ears. They have sparkles and sunflowers; friendly greetings and insults; cartoon characters and teeny reindeer.

What they don’t have is a label that shows how well they block infectious particles, an omission that has frustrated public health officials during the coronavirus pandemic. Those experts note that there is a big range in the effectiveness of various designs, and some barely filter out particles at all.

“The most fundamental, basic question is: What is the safest mask and how do I assure that I have that, and my family members and children have that?” said Fran Phillips, who stepped down in August from her post as deputy health secretary of Maryland. “It’s so startling that we are here in this moment and we don’t have that information.”

That may change soon. A division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to develop minimum filter efficiency standards, and labels showing which products meet them, for the vast and bewildering marketplace for masks and other face coverings.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the CDC known as NIOSH, has been quietly writing guidelines with an industry standard-setting organization, ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials), that are expected to be made public next month.

—The New York Times

Farmers ordered to pay back wages over COVID-19 quarantines

SALEM, Ore. — Three area farmers have been ordered to pay more than $11,000 in back wages after denying paid sick leave to employees who were advised to self-quarantine following potential COVID-19 exposure.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division ordered Coleman Agriculture in Gervais to pay seven employees $8,878; St. Joseph Orchard Inc. in McMinnville to pay four employees $1,820 and J Farms LLC to pay one employee $720, the Statesman Journal reported.

The paid sick leave is required by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The Act gives tax credits to businesses with fewer than 500 employees for employee paid leave for the employee’s health needs or to care for family members.

It wasn’t immediately known if the farmers can appeal the order.

—Associated Press

South Korea marks deadliest day, over 1,000 cases

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has added more than 1,000 infections to its coronavirus caseload for the second straight day amid growing fears that the virus is spreading out of control in the greater capital area.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday said the COVID-19 death toll was now at 634 after 22 patients died in the past 24 hours, the deadliest day since the emergence of the pandemic. Among 12,209 active patients, 242 are in serious or critical condition.

Nearly 800 of the 1,014 new cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health officials have raised alarm about a looming shortage in hospital capacities. Thursday marked the 40th consecutive day of triple digit daily jumps, which brought the national caseload to 46,453.

The viral resurgence came after months of pandemic fatigue, complacency and government efforts to breathe life into a sluggish economy.

Officials are now mulling whether to raise social distancing restriction to maximum levels, which could possibly include bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting tens of thousands of businesses deemed non-essential and requiring companies to have more employees work from home.

—Associated Press
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UW reports 25 active positive COVID-19 cases in athletic department after football program pause

On Wednesday, seven days after its football program paused all team-related activities, UW reported 25 active positive cases of COVID-19 in its athletic department — 14 more than a week ago.

The university chooses not to specify how many positive COVID-19 cases belong to each individual program “to protect the health information of our student-athletes,” according to UW associate athletic director for health and wellness Rob Scheidegger. Since UW athletes began returning to campus on June 15, 560 athletes have received 6,360 PCR tests with 79 total positive cases (1.24%).

The UW football program paused all team-related activities last Wednesday following a significant surge of positive COVID-19 cases and contact tracing. As a result, the Huskies were forced to cancel their rivalry game at Oregon last weekend, then withdraw from Friday’s Pac-12 championship game at USC.

UW head coach Jimmy Lake said in a news conference on Monday that the members of his program who have tested positive “have mild symptoms and nothing extremely serious.”

Read the full story here.

—Mike Vorel

Record numbers of COVID-19 patients push hospitals and staffs to the limit

In Boston, pediatric wards are being consolidated to fit all the adults battling COVID-19. Philadelphia hospitals are once again barring family visitors due to transmission worries. And in Los Angeles, a public hospital canceled elective and scheduled surgeries because it cannot spare ICU beds.

Exponentially rising hospitalizations in these and other states are pushing some hospital systems to near breaking points, with many scrambling to reconfigure themselves to handle a crush of patients streaming in after holiday gatherings and the arrival of flu season.

Hospitals reported more than 110,000 coronavirus patients on each of the past two days, a record count for the pandemic, according to tracking by The Washington Post. That is more than three times the number they treated in September and nearly double that reported at the height of the spring surge.

In hard-hit California, officials activated a mutual aid program for coroners, designed to help local authorities cope with “mass fatality.” Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said at a news conference Tuesday that the state had ordered 5,000 more body bags and 60 refrigerated storage units were on standby.

“I don’t want people to scare folks, but this is a deadly disease,” Newsom said. “And we need to be mindful of where we are in this current journey together, to the vaccine. We are not at the finish line.”

—The Washington Post

No, travel isn’t safer if you’ve already had COVID-19. Here’s why.

As Americans grapple with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s strong warning to stay at home this winter to stop the spread of the coronavirus, some are wondering if they are exempt from the recommendation if they have already recovered from the illness.

People who had the coronavirus can develop antibodies that circulate in the blood and can neutralize the pathogen. But questions around immunity still linger. The CDC says cases of reinfection have been reported but “are rare.”

It hasn’t stopped people from traveling, though. Last month, the Icelandic government announced visitors who can prove they have recovered from a coronavirus infection can skip the country’s new border measures when they arrive. After recovering from the coronavirus in March, travel blogger and author Matt Kepnes, 39, resumed traveling in the United States and Mexico, albeit with caution.

“I got tested before I went and I isolated before and during, just making sure that I was fine,” Kepnes said.

But should you travel if you already had the coronavirus? The short answer is no. The CDC guidelines of avoiding nonessential travel apply to everyone.

—The Washington Post
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The land border is closed, but Canadian RVers found a loophole to winter in U.S.

Last week, Canadian border officials announced that the land border with the United States, which has been shuttered since March, will remain closed to nonessential travel until at least Jan. 21, 2021. The rule has barred both Canadian and American travelers from crossing since the spring, but only Americans have not been able to fly across the border.

Canadians can fly to the United States — which has a higher coronavirus case rate than Canada — at their own risk and must satisfy testing and quarantine requirements when they return home. The Canadian government has been unwilling to comment on the fly-only loophole since October, according to the CBC.

And now, with harsh winter weather returning to Canada, snowbirds who typically RV across the more temperate southwestern U.S. states during the winter months have found a way to still make the trip. Cross-border towing companies, which are considered essential businesses, can take the recreational vehicle across the border for them and meet the RVers (who fly across the border) on the other side.

“Winter in Canada — even where it’s the mildest — is rainy, cold, miserable, and it wasn’t something we wanted to do,” says Alex Kurm, 44, a longtime RVer who entered the United States with his family last month. They took a 12-minute charter flight across the border, and they retrieved their RV from a shipping company that transported it to the U.S. side.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Shannon McMahon, The Washington Post

How effective is the mask you’re wearing? You may know soon.

A wide variety of face masks are offered at a store in Cypress, Texas, on Nov. 27, 2020. New filtration standards being developed aim to help consumers understand just how effective the masks they buy really are.  (Go Nakamura / The New York Times)

More than 100,000 varieties of face masks are currently for sale. They come in silk, cotton and synthetics; with filters and without; over-the-head and over-the-ears. They have sparkles and sunflowers; friendly greetings and insults; cartoon characters and teeny reindeer.

What they don’t have is a label that shows how well they block infectious particles, an omission that has frustrated public health officials during the coronavirus pandemic. Those experts note that there is a big range in the effectiveness of various designs, and some barely filter out particles at all.

“The most fundamental, basic question is: What is the safest mask and how do I assure that I have that, and my family members and children have that?” said Fran Phillips, who stepped down in August from her post as deputy health secretary of Maryland. “It’s so startling that we are here in this moment and we don’t have that information.”

That may change soon. A division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to develop minimum filter efficiency standards, and labels showing which products meet them, for the vast and bewildering marketplace for masks and other face coverings.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the CDC known as NIOSH, has been quietly writing guidelines with an industry standard-setting organization, ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials), that are expected to be made public next month.

“By having a standard in place you will be able to know what level of protection is being achieved and you’ll have a consistent way of evaluating these products,” said Maryann D’Alessandro, director of the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.

Since the pandemic began, there has been little federal oversight of masks and other face coverings.

Read the full story here.

—Sheila Kaplan, The New York Times

Pompeo cancels final holiday party after he comes into contact with coronavirus

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled his final major holiday party of the year Wednesday after his exposure to a person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus forced him into quarantine, according to two officials familiar with the situation.

The decision caps a run of indoor holiday parties hosted by Pompeo, his wife, Susan, and his top aides that health experts and U.S. lawmakers warned could turn into superspreader events at a time when the novel coronavirus has killed more than 300,000 Americans.

The State Department has hosted hundreds of diplomats and dignitaries since last week for indoor gatherings with holiday music, drinks and photo lines that resulted in the type of close congregation and maskless situations that facilitate the airborne transmission of the virus through respiratory droplets.

Pompeo, one of President Donald Trump’s most loyal confidants, stood out among Cabinet officials for approving holiday events that disregarded Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines against large indoor gatherings, while other departments such as the Pentagon switched to hosting virtual holiday functions.

Read the full story here.

—John Hudson, The Washington Post
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US angling to secure more of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine

An employee of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccines at the medical center, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Wake Forest Baptist received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday morning. Ten employees received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday. Additional employees will be given the vaccine in the coming days. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

U.S. officials say they’re actively negotiating for additional purchases of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine after passing up a chance to lock in a contract this summer since it was still unclear how well the shots would work.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and special adviser Dr. Moncef Slaoui also told reporters Wednesday that Pfizer had been unable to commit to a firm delivery date. Azar called that “the core issue.”

There was no immediate comment from the company, whose CEO Albert Bourla told CNN this week it is “working very collaboratively” with the government to deliver additional vaccine through the federal Operation Warp Speed. That’s a White House-backed, taxpayer-funded effort to quickly develop coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

The Trump administration has come under scathing criticism from congressional Democrats after news leaked out last week about the foregone vaccine opportunity.

“We are concerned the failure to secure an adequate supply of vaccines will needlessly prolong the COVID-19 pandemic in this country, causing further loss of life and economic devastation,” a group of senators led by Patty Murray of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote HHS. “We fear this is yet another instance in which the Trump administration’s failure to develop a comprehensive national vaccines plan in a timely manner could jeopardize efforts to get people vaccinated and ultimately end this pandemic.”

Read the rest of the story here.

—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press

Health officials track safety as COVID-19 vaccines roll out

As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out to more and more people, health authorities are keeping close watch for any unexpected side effects.

On Tuesday, a health worker in Alaska suffered a severe allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Doctors already knew to be on the lookout after Britain reported two similar cases last week.

In the U.S., vaccine recipients are supposed to hang around after the injection in case signs of an allergy appear and they need immediate treatment — exactly what happened when the health worker in Juneau became flushed and short of breath 10 minutes after the shot.

Allergies are always a question with a new medical product, but monitoring COVID-19 vaccines for any other, unexpected side effects is a bigger challenge than usual. It’s not just because so many people need to be vaccinated over the next year. Never before have so many vaccines made in different ways converged at the same time — and it’s possible that one shot option will come with different side effects than another...

HOW WILL I FEEL AFTER VACCINATION?

Getting either the Pfizer-BioNTech shot or the Moderna version can cause some temporary discomfort, just like many vaccines do.

In addition to a sore arm, people can experience a fever and some flu-like symptoms — fatigue, aches, chills, headache. They last about a day, sometimes bad enough that recipients miss work, and are more common after the second dose and in younger people.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press

Twitter to start removing COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

Twitter said Wednesday that it will begin removing misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations from its site.

It listed among posts that will removed as those including false claims that the virus is not real, debunked claims about the effects of receiving the vaccine and baseless claims that suggest that immunizations are used to harm or control people.

Twitter said in a blog post that it will start enforcing the new policy next week. If people send tweets in violation of the rules, they will be required to delete them before they are able to tweet again. Before the offending tweet is removed, Twitter will hide it from view.

Read the story here.

—Barbara Ortutay, The Associated Press
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‘Like a hand grasping’: Trump appointees describe the crushing of the CDC

ATLANTA — Kyle McGowan, a former chief of staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and his deputy, Amanda Campbell, were installed in 2018 as two of the youngest political appointees in the history of the world’s premier public health agency, young Republicans returning to their native Georgia to dream jobs.

But what they witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic this year in the CDC’s leadership suite on the 12-floor headquarters here shook them: Washington’s dismissal of science, the White House’s slow suffocation of the agency’s voice, the meddling in its messages and the siphoning of its budget.

In interviews this fall, the pair decided to go public with their disillusionment: what went wrong, and what they believe needs to be done as the agency girds for what could be a yearslong project of rebuilding its credibility externally while easing ill feelings and self-doubt internally.

“Everyone wants to describe the day that the light switch flipped and the CDC was sidelined. It didn’t happen that way,” McGowan said. “It was more of like a hand grasping something, and it slowly closes, closes, closes, closes until you realize that, middle of the summer, it has a complete grasp on everything at the CDC.”

Read more of this story here.

—By Noah Weiland, The New York Times

Vaccinations reach nursing homes, as California faces crisis

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The first COVID-19 vaccinations are underway at U.S. nursing homes, where the virus has killed upwards of 110,000 people, even as the nation struggles to contain a surge so alarming that California is dispensing thousands of body bags and lining up refrigerated morgue trailers.

With the rollout of shots picking up speed Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington closed in on a long-stalled coronavirus relief package that would send direct payments of perhaps $600 to most Americans. Meanwhile, the U.S. appeared to be days away from adding a second vaccine to its arsenal.

At the same time, a major snowstorm pushing its way into the Northeast raised fears it could disrupt distribution of the first vaccine.

Nursing home residents in Florida began receiving shots Wednesday, after nearly 2,000 such vaccinations were administered in West Virginia on Tuesday. Thousands more are scheduled there in the coming days. Other states are expected to follow soon.

The elderly and infirm in long-term care have been among the most vulnerable to the virus and, together with health workers, are first in line to get the limited, initial supplies of the Pfizer shot. Nursing home residents and workers account for more than one-third of the nation’s 300,000 or so confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

Read the full story here.

—By Adam Geller and Terry Spencer, The Associated Press

Durkan extends COVID-19 relief, including eviction moratorium

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Wednesday extended COVID-19 relief measures, including an eviction moratorium that now goes through March 31, 2021.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of December.

Durkan's eviction moratorium applies to residential tenants, as well as small business and nonprofit tenants — the city classifies these as "independently-owned businesses with 50 employees or fewer per establishment, state nonprofits, and 501(c)(3) nonprofits."

Other relief as part of the executive order includes a suspension of the 72-hour parking rule and extends closure of all City of Seattle customer service counters.

See the full executive order here:

—Alex Iniguez
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Alaska health worker had a serious allergic reaction after Pfizer’s vaccine

WASHINGTON — A health worker in Alaska had a serious allergic reaction after getting Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine Tuesday and was hospitalized, according to three people familiar with official reports of the person’s health. The person is in stable condition.

Government officials were scrambling Wednesday to learn more about the case. It was not immediately clear if the worker had a history of allergies, which makes it difficult to assess the broader significance of the incident as millions of Americans are vaccinated over the coming weeks. The reaction was believed to be similar to the anaphylactic reactions that two health workers in Britain experienced after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week. Both of them recovered.

The company’s U.S. trial involving more than 40,000 people did not find any serious adverse events caused by the vaccine, although many participants did experience aches, fevers and other side effects. Severe allergic reactions to vaccines are typically linked to the vaccine because of their timing.

A Pfizer spokesperson, Jerica Pitts, said that the company does not yet have all the details of the case but is working with local health authorities. The vaccine comes with information warning that medical treatment should be available in case of a rare anaphylactic event, she said. “We will closely monitor all reports suggestive of serious allergic reactions following vaccination and update labeling language if needed,” Pitts said.

Click here to read the full story.

—By Katie Thomas, Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, The New York Times

From voter fraud to vaccine lies: Misinformation peddlers shift gears

Attorney Sidney Powell, who was a member of President Trump’s legal team, has started posting inaccurate claims about the coronavirus vaccines online. (Ben Margot / The Associated Press, file)

Sidney Powell, a lawyer who was part of President Donald Trump’s legal team, spread a conspiracy theory last month about election fraud. For days, she claimed that she would “release the Kraken” by showing voluminous evidence that Trump had won the election by a landslide.

But after her assertions were widely derided and failed to gain legal traction, Powell started talking about a new topic. On Dec. 4, she posted a link on Twitter with misinformation that said that the population would be split into the vaccinated and the unvaccinated and that “big government” could surveil those who were unvaccinated.

“NO WAY #America,” Powell wrote in the tweet, which collected 22,600 shares and 51,000 likes. “This is more authoritarian communist control imported straight from #China.”

She then tagged Trump and Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser — both of whom she had represented — and other prominent right-wing figures to highlight the post.

Powell’s changing tune was part of a broader shift in online misinformation. As Trump’s challenges to the election’s results have been knocked down and the Electoral College has affirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s win, voter fraud misinformation has subsided. Instead, peddlers of online falsehoods are ramping up lies about COVID-19 vaccines, which were administered to Americans for the first time this week.

Read the full story here.

—By Sheera Frenkel and Davey Alba, The New York Times

On a mission: Tom Cruise insists on social distancing on set

FILE – In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 file photo, actor Tom Cruise wears a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he greets fans during a break from shooting Mission Impossible 7, along Rome’s Fori Imperiali avenue. Tom Cruise has launched an expletive-laden rant at colleagues on the set of his latest “Mission: Impossible” movie after he reportedly spotted two workers failing to abide by social distancing rules. In audio released Wednesday, Dec. 16 by the Sun tabloid, the 58-year-old Hollywood megastar can be heard warning that anyone caught not following the rules to stay at least 2 meters (more than 6.5 feet) away from others will be fired. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)

LONDON (AP) — Tom Cruise has launched an expletive-laden rant at colleagues on the set of his latest “Mission: Impossible” movie, after he reportedly spotted two workers failing to respect social distancing rules.

In audio released by the Sun tabloid, the 58-year-old Hollywood star can be heard warning that anyone caught not following the rules to stay at least 2 meters (more than 6.5 feet) away from others will be fired.

“If I see you doing it again, you’re f—-ing gone and if anyone on this crew does it, that’s it,” he is heard saying on the audio recorded during filming in Britain. “That’s it. No apologies.”

During his outburst at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, which is around 30 miles (around 50 kilometers) north of London, Cruise catalogued the difficulties he and everyone in the film industry are facing during the coronavirus pandemic. The timing of the outburst was not clear, though the Sun said production of the movie returned to Britain two weeks ago.

Many movies have either been delayed until after the pandemic is over or because of COVID-related delays on set, including the seventh instalment of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise.

During his outburst, Cruise notes the higher costs for insuring a movie in these times. He also voices his concerns about the direct impact on families and their ability to pay bills if the movie shuts down.

“That’s what I sleep with every night,” he said. “Do you understand the responsibility that you have?”

Click here for the full story.

—By The Associated Press
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Cookies, hot cocoa, pick-me-up notes: ‘Sparks’ of kindness

A tin of cookies is left on the running board of an ambulance outside a nursing home with a note for the emergency workers who operate it: “You’re AMAZING! Yes, you!”

A baggie sits on the edge of a fountain with dozens of copper coins and another message, for anyone who passes by and fancies tossing one in: “Take a penny. Make a wish! Hope your dreams come true.”

This is the world of Sparks of Kindness, an online community of people going out of their way to put a smile on the faces of others through small but touching good deeds, especially in tumultuous times of pandemic, protests and political division.

“There’s so much bad in the world, and that’s kind of what we hear about,” said Debbie McFarland, a 53-year-old photographer from Peachtree City, Georgia, who founded the group on Facebook. “But I found that there’s so many people that want to do good — they just don’t really know how to start.”

That’s where Sparks of Kindness comes in. It has lists of ideas for “sparks,” or small kindnesses people can do such as thanking a teacher with candy or leaving coloring books in a hospital waiting room.

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—By Peter Orsi and Emily Leshner, The Associated Press

A top scientist questioned virus lockdowns on Fox News. The backlash was fierce

Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis’s skepticism of the coronavirus’ lethality and shutdowns to contain it drew praise in some political corners and derision in scientific ones. (Melina Mara/ The Washington Post)

It came as no surprise in March when journalists turned to John Ioannidis, a Stanford University medical professor famous for his rigorous assessments — and frequent debunking — of disease treatments.

The surprise came in what Ioannidis had to say. As many public health experts and government officials were urging people to stay home to avoid infection, he speculated that the greater risk lay not in COVID-19 but in overzealous lockdowns to prevent its spread.

“We’re falling into a trap of sensationalism,” Ioannidis told the documentary filmmakers interviewing him remotely on March 23 as he sat in a studio at Stanford. “We have gone into a complete panic state.”

The video would be viewed more than a half-million times before it was removed by YouTube, which said the interview violated its policies on COVID-19 misinformation.

At a time when President Donald Trump was openly at war with his own administration’s medical experts, Ioannidis’s doubts about the wisdom of lockdowns became part of the rancorous debate about how the country should respond to the threat of COVID-19.

His critics say the Stanford doctor is violating the principles of intellectual rigor he has spent much of his career espousing — refusing to admit his mistaken judgments and recklessly lending a scientific imprimatur to forces that defy public-health directives for irrational reasons.

“Debates among scientists about the evidence are healthy. But if conducted in public the rules change,” Goodman said. “They can confuse people and undermine the consistent messaging needed for public health. Politicians can also misuse these debates to undermine public health policies they don’t like. The result? Our complete failure to contain COVID-19.”

Read the story here.

—Peter Jamison, The Washington Post

Nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since the summer

The U.S. poverty rate has surged over the past five months, with 7.8 million Americans falling into poverty, the latest indication of how deeply many are struggling during the pandemic after government aid dwindled.

The poverty rate jumped to 11.7 percent in November, up 2.4 percentage points since June, according to new data released Wednesday by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame.

While overall poverty levels are low by historical standards, the increase in poverty this year has been swift. It is the biggest jump in a single year since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago. It is nearly double the next-largest rise, which occurred in 1979-1980 during the oil crisis, according to James X. Sullivan, a professor at Notre Dame, and Bruce D. Meyer, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Sullivan and Meyer created a COVID-19 Income and Poverty Dashboard to track how many Americans are falling below the poverty line during this deep recession. The federal poverty line is $26,200 for a family of four.

The economists say the sharp rise in poverty is occurring for two reasons: Millions of people cannot find jobs, and government aid for the unemployed has declined sharply since the summer. The average unemployment payment was more than $900 a week from late March through the end of July, but it fell to about $300 a week in August, making it harder for the unemployed to pay their bills.

“We’ve seen a continual rise in poverty every month since June,” said Sullivan.

Read the story here.

—Heather Long, The Washington Post
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Man jailed after taking jet ski across Irish Sea to visit girlfriend

On Thursday, Dale Mclaughlan bought a Jet Ski.

On Monday, the 28-year-old Scotsman was sentenced to four weeks in jail.

What happened on the three days in between, according to court documents, may be one of the more unusual instances of rule-flouting during the coronavirus pandemic.

The day after purchasing the watercraft, Mclaughlan set off at 8 a.m. for what he thought would be a 40-minute trip from the southwestern coast of Scotland to his girlfriend’s home on the Isle of Man, between England and Ireland. He later told authorities that he had never ridden a Jet Ski before and that bad weather on the Irish Sea caused the trip to stretch to 4 1/2 hours.

Mclaughlan finally reached his girlfriend on Friday night, after walking 15 miles from the Isle of Man’s coast to her home in its capital, Douglas. The couple spent the weekend enjoying the city’s nightlife, but their reunion was cut short, when he was arrested and later charged with one count of violating the Isle of Man’s coronavirus restrictions.

On Monday, he received a four-week jail sentence.

“This individual was aware of the law and showed a flagrant disregard when they chose to break it, mixing in the community and potentially putting lives at risk,” Howard Quayle, chief minister of the Isle of Man, said in a statement Tuesday.

Read the story here.

—Jenny Gross, The New York Times

Inmates facing big virus risks not near top of vaccine lists

Amber Johnson is terrified her 63-year-old father will get the coronavirus. He has high blood pressure, asthma and is pre-diabetic, and she worries he’s especially vulnerable as an inmate in Colorado, where outbreaks in prisons are raging.

Prisons across the U.S. have been hit hard by COVID-19. Social distancing is virtually impossible behind bars: inmates sleep in close quarters and share bathrooms. Masks, hygiene supplies and safety protocols are often lacking, and many inmates have health problems that make them susceptible to the virus.

Johnson believes a vaccine might be the only hope for her father, Ronald Johnson, who is serving time for theft, forgery and drug possession.

But in Colorado and most other states, prisoners aren’t near the front of the line for initial doses of COVID-19 vaccine now being distributed. Health care workers and nursing home residents are getting the first wave of shots, and many argue that those who break the law — despite living in conditions that put them at risk — shouldn’t be a priority when many others are vulnerable.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

UK consensus fraying over Christmas easing of restrictions

The consensus across the four nations of the U.K. over the planned easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas appears to be fraying — even though they all agreed Wednesday to keep in place the laws around the relaxation.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the four nations had “unanimously” agreed to maintain the special Christmas rules, but it seems that the guidance in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could well be different come the start of the scheduled five-day relaxation from Dec. 23.

Following a meeting Wednesday of leaders from the four nations the law surrounding the Christmas easing will remain in place, allowing three different households to form a holiday bubble until Dec. 27.

Though the law won’t necessarily change, the guidance could be different across the four nations. The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has already said his government’s recommendation is that only two households should gather.

Concerns over the planned easing have ratcheted higher in recent days. With new infections rising in many places, many fear that the relaxation will only escalate infections and deaths and put too much pressure on the already-stressed National Health Service.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Germany enters harder lockdown as virus deaths hit new high

A woman walks past a closed jewelry in central Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Germany has entered a harder lockdown, closing shops and schools in an effort to bring down stubbornly high new cases of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Germany reported a record level of coronavirus deaths as it entered a harder lockdown Wednesday, closing shops and schools to try to bring down stubbornly high new daily infections.

The country recorded 179.8 virus infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, a new high and significantly more than the 149 per 100,000 reported a week ago by the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control center.

It also blew past its previous daily death toll, with Germany’s 16 states reporting that 952 more people had died of the virus, the institute said. That was far greater than the previous daily record set Friday of 598 deaths, although it included two days of figures from the hard-hit eastern state of Saxony, which did not report Tuesday. It brought the country’s overall pandemic death toll to 23,427.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Flattening curve wasn’t enough for New Zealand, PM says

New Zealand this year pulled off a moonshot that remains the envy of most other nations: It eliminated the coronavirus.

But the goal was driven as much by fear as it was ambition, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. She said the target grew from an early realization the nation’s health system simply couldn’t cope with a big outbreak.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is interviewed in her office at the parliament in Wellington, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. New Zealand this year pulled off a moonshot that remains the envy of almost every other nation: It eliminated the coronavirus. But the goal was driven as much by fear as it was ambition, Prime Minister Ardern revealed Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. She said the target grew from an early realization the nation’s health system simply couldn’t cope with a big outbreak. (AP Photo/Sam James)

New Zealand’s response to the virus has been among the most successful, together with actions taken by China, Taiwan and Thailand early on in the pandemic. The country of 5 million has counted just 25 deaths and managed to stamp out the spread of COVID-19, allowing people to return to workplaces, schools and packed sports stadiums without restrictions.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up

Enjoy two Seattle theater productions from the best seat in your house.

• Surf, turf and food for the soul: Here are three Seattle spots for festive takeout splurges, along with an updating list of restaurants that will be open for takeout on Christmas.

• If you're ever going to make a gingerbread house from scratch, this is the year. Here's a recipe and visual guide.

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Catch up on the past 24 hours

• The first home test for COVID-19 that doesn’t require a prescription will soon be on U.S. store shelves. The rapid-results test will sell for about $30.

• Amid the joy and relief at the arrival of a vaccine comes news from the UK about “potentially serious” mutations that may be driving a surge in virus cases there.

“I have never been so afraid of Christmas and New Year’s in my life,” says a doctor in Southern California, where virus deaths are soaring and hospitals are becoming overwhelmed.

• A Broadview resident is happy to see all of the neighborhood walkers but wishes they would mask up. How can you get people to wear a mask while avoiding confrontation? A Seattle company has a free app for that. Here's how it works.

• The mayor of Dodge City, Kansas, quit her job after receiving phone and email threats over her support of a mask mandate.

• Bah humbug: Dozens of children who attended a tree lighting event in Georgia may have been exposed to COVID-19 after a pair performing as Santa and Mrs. Claus tested positive for the virus, officials said.

How is the pandemic affecting you?

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