Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Dec. 17, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

As the country’s first coronavirus vaccine is distributed to hospitals throughout the United States, rising hospitalizations 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.

Meanwhile, congressional negotiators are closing in on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that would deliver additional help to businesses, but a deal still hasn’t been finalized.

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.

Gov. Jay Inslee will hold a news conference at 2:30 p.m. today to announce his full 2021-2023 budget proposals, including COVID-19.
Watch here:

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)


COVID-19 models plot dire scenarios for California hospitals

LOS ANGELES — When Gov. Gavin Newsom provided a dire view of California’s out-of-control surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations this week, he referred to projection models of future death and misery that he said were becoming “alarmingly” more accurate.

If true, then over the next four weeks the state’s hospitals could be overflowing with 75,000 patients — about five times the current level — and an average of 400 people will die every day.

Hospitals were on the brink of being overrun with nearly 15,000 patients with COVID-19 when Newsom made the announcement Tuesday. The hospitalization projection is based on cases continuing to increase at the current rate of infection without people taking additional precautions to prevent spreading the virus.

At that trajectory, it doesn’t take long before the state is in a very bad place, said Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“One thing that’s worrisome is that for quite a while in California we’ve had exponential hospitalizations and cases,” Kilpatrick said. “That’s kind of terrifying.”

—Associated Press

Otter, Twitter and Zoom fatigue: Covering a day in 2020 Seattle sports, from the comfort of home

The other day I found myself asking a fellow media member, “Do you have an Otter of the Zoom so I can tweet some quotes?”

I can only imagine what 1979 me, just starting out in the sportswriting business with what can only be called rudimentary technology at my disposal, would have made of that sentence. Shoot, even 2019 me would have been thoroughly confused.

But among the many distinctions of 2020, most of them sad and regrettable and some just the necessary byproduct of life in a pandemic, is this: It is the Year of Zoom.

And that doesn’t just hold true for business and education. It has become the nearly exclusive method for conducting interviews and other interactions in the world of sports, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

That really hit home Wednesday, when through a fluke of scheduling and confluence of events, the Seattle sports scene offered a veritable Zoom marathon. Many of our prominent coaches and managers, both college and professional, had their stint on the podium in a sunup to sundown cornucopia of wit and wisdom.

It started with Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and general manager Garth Lagerwey giving their annual summation of the season and a look at what lies ahead. That segued directly into University of Washington football coach Jimmy Lake’s wrap-up of national signing day. After a quick lunch break, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll held his weekly Wednesday news conference from the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton. And when that ended, it was just about time for Mariners manager Scott Servais to hold court on his ballclub’s prospects, ostensibly as part of MLB’s winter meetings, even though those aren’t being held this year. And this Seattle State of the Union was capped later in the evening by UW men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins’ somber recap of a damaging loss to Montana.

Those were the high points.

Read the full column here.

—Larry Stone

Some health care workers are getting the COVID vaccine, some aren’t; who decides?

The vaccine is perhaps the only bright spot as the coronavirus continues its rampage around the country and new data shows a jobless crisis far worse than in other recessions. Still, in the scramble to vaccinate millions of health workers, difficult choices about who comes first — and who must wait — have started to surface.

So far, the effort is concentrated in hospitals. Workers treating COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and in emergency departments have in recent days been beaming symbols of the virus’ demise.

But there are roughly 21 million health care workers in the United States, making up one of the country’s largest industries, and vaccinating everybody in the first wave would be impossible. That has left entire categories of workers — people who are also at risk for infection — wondering about their place in line.

“There’s a lot of nervous buzz and questioning going on,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

There are broad gray areas, he said: primary care doctors in areas with high infection rates, workers who handle bodies, firefighters who respond to 911 calls, dentists, pathologists who handle coronavirus samples in labs, hospice workers, chaplains.

“Right now, they are asking, ‘Where am I in all of this?’ That’s turned into quite a behind-the-scenes tussle.”

—The New York Times

Washington state raises its estimate for number of fraudulent unemployment claims by 41%

Officials with the state Employment Security Department (ESD) have sharply increased their estimate for the number of phony unemployment claims that criminals filed this spring in what became the largest fraud in Washington history.

The update, issued Wednesday, came a day before the state auditor’s office announced that the first of five audits into the fraud and other pandemic-related issues at ESD will be released Friday morning.

On Wednesday, the ESD revised the number of “known, suspected or probable” fraudulent claims from this spring’s fraud to 122,000, a 41% jump from the agency’s estimate in August.

The ESD also revised the total stolen in the fraud to $600 million, up 4% from $576 million. The agency also reported that the amount recovered had risen to $357 million, from $340 million in August, for a net loss of $243 million.

ESD spokesperson Nick Demerice said the large upward revision in number of claims reflected more suspected claims being confirmed as fraudulent. Investigators initially flagged a large number of claims as suspicious, but then had to “do the due diligence on each and every single one of them to determine was it truly fraud,” Demerice said.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

Seattle’s pre-K through first graders will return to school in person March 1

By March 1, Seattle Public Schools will bring preschoolers, kindergartners, first graders and additional students with disabilities back to the classroom for in-person learning, the Seattle School Board decided unanimously Thursday evening.

The decision comes after months of speculation about when the state’s largest school district — one of the first urban school systems in the nation to close in light of the pandemic — would bring more of its students back in person. Other neighboring districts have already announced reopening plans with earlier start dates.

“This will be one step in a very prolonged process” to eventually bring all students back, said Chandra Hampson, School Board president. 

If the family of every student eligible to receive in-person services opts to return, it would mean about 11,000 students would be back in school buildings, about a fifth of the district’s total enrollment. It’s also possible the district may expand in-person services to more students with disabilities sooner than March 1. The plan is to bring students back in person for up to five days a week.

Read the full story here.

—Dahlia Bazzaz

Microsoft to spend $110 million on economic, education initiatives to boost Washington state’s COVID-19 recovery

The patio outside a cafe on the Microsoft campus in Redmond sits empty Thursday. Microsoft is continuing to pay its on-site vendors’ hourly service providers their regular pay until they can return to campuses. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Microsoft, one of Washington’s top economic performers this year, took steps Thursday to help the rest of the state catch up and recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Microsoft President Brad Smith announced that the Redmond-based software and cloud-computing giant would spend more than $110 million funding local nonprofits and covering the wages of hourly workers at its idled corporate campuses. Some of that money would also be used to help Washington state bring back students to classrooms, adding support to a state initiative announced on Wednesday.

Smith characterized the initiatives as a measure of the company’s commitment to its local community but also a recognition of just how fortunate the company and its tech peers have been during a pandemic that has devastated many industries and communities.

The company reported net income of $13.9 billion for the most recent quarter, a 30% increase over the same quarter in 2019.

Thursday’s announcement comes two years after Microsoft launched a $500 million initiative to help boost affordable housing in the Puget Sound area.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts and Dahlia Bazzaz

Employers can require the coronavirus vaccine, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has decided that employers can require workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and offered guidance on exceptions.

Employers have been hoping for clarity from the agency as they mull whether to mandate vaccination even as many people remain concerned about the safety of a vaccine developed so quickly and not tested on certain populations.

The guidelines, published Wednesday, mostly confirm what attorneys have been advising clients as vaccines begin to be distributed.

In essence, the EEOC said employers can require that employees get inoculated as a condition of going to work, unless an employee declines because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief.

In such cases, the employer must offer a reasonable accommodation to the employee, such as working remotely, as long as the accommodation doesn’t cause “undue hardship” for the employer. If there is no accommodation possible, then an employer may prohibit the employee from entering the premises but not necessarily fire them.

—Chicago Tribune

Lummi Nation begins COVID-19 vaccinations, starting with 300 doses

Lummi Nation member James Scott (native name Qwelexwbed), left, receives the first COVID-19 vaccination on the Lummi Reservation by registered nurse Alyssa Lane, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, near Bellingham, Wash. Scott’s granddaughter, Mackayla Alvarez, the family’s oral historian, looks on to witness the moment. The Native American tribe began rationing its first 300 doses of vaccine as it fights surging cases with a shelter-in-place order. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Lummi Nation began vaccinations Thursday, becoming one of the nation’s first to provide protection to its tribal members against a disease that has had an outsized and devastating impact on some American Indian and Alaska Native communities. 

The tribal nation received 300 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine Tuesday, said Dr. Dakotah Lane, medical director of the Public Health Department and a Lummi Nation member. 

“A huge relief,” Lane said Wednesday, before the vaccination. He added that receiving the first shipment of vaccine was an “emotional moment.” 

Efficient delivery of vaccine doses could help turn the tide against a disease that has disproportionately harmed Native American communities. 

Nearly 2,700 American Indians and Alaska Native had died of COVID-19 as of early December, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Native Americans represent a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths nationwide. The trend is pronounced among Native Americans between the ages of 20-39, who have died at rates more than 10 times that of white Americans from the disease. 

Read the full story here.

—Evan Bush

State health officials confirm 3,074 new coronavirus cases, 75 new deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday reported 3,074 new coronavirus cases, which could include up to 1,000 duplicates, and 75 new deaths.

The update brings the state's totals to 217,205 cases and 3,117 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. Wednesday.

In addition, 13,235 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 161 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 56,268 coronavirus diagnoses and 968 deaths.

On Dec. 17, The Seattle Times changed its method of reporting daily cases to be more consistent with the state’s reporting methodology, which now includes both confirmed cases and probable cases in its total count. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.

The addition of the new probable-cases category could contribute to higher daily case, hospitalization and death counts. In general, DOH’s data dashboard is limited to molecular test results and does not include antigen testing results.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day's total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day's total number of cases.

—Elise Takahama

Supreme Court will not exempt religious school from Kentucky’s coronavirus-closure order

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Thursday denied a Kentucky Christian academy’s plea that it should be exempt from the governor’s order requiring all K-12 institutions to temporarily cease in-person classes because of rising coronavirus case numbers.

The Danville Christian Academy, joined by Kentucky’s attorney general, said that it should not be compared to other schools, but to businesses that have been allowed to remain open with reduced capacities, and that doing otherwise was a violation of religious rights.

But the court, in an unsigned order, noted that schools are about to begin their holiday breaks, and that Gov. Andrew Beshear’s mandate expires before schools reopen Jan. 4. If Beshear, a Democrat, reissues the restriction, the court said, the plaintiffs could return to court.

Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were alone in noting their dissent. They agreed with the Christian schools’ argument that they were being treated differently than businesses.

“I would not leave in place yet another potentially unconstitutional decree, even for the next few weeks,” Gorsuch wrote.

Read the full story here.

—Robert Barnes, The Washington Post

Pence and Biden to get COVID-19 vaccinations; Trump still holding out

Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence are locking in plans to get vaccinated for the coronavirus — but the most powerful man in the nation hasn’t followed suit yet.

Donald Trump, who is only president for 35 more days, has yet to make arrangements to get inoculated for the vicious respiratory virus, even though he’s considered to be in a risk category because of his age and health issues.

Meanwhile, Pence’s office announced Wednesday that he will get a coronavirus shot with his wife in front of cameras on Friday “to promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people.”

Biden, 78, is in the process of making similar plans, with an official from his transition team telling the New York Daily News that the president-elect expects to receive a televised vaccination as early as next week.

A White House spokesman did not return a request for comment on why Trump, 74, is holding out on the vaccine even as Pence, 61, moves ahead with inoculation.

Earlier this week, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump won’t get vaccinated until his team of White House doctors recommends it.

Read the full story here.

—Chris Sommerfeldt , The New York Daily News

San Diego County suspends virus enforcement on restaurants

San Diego County has suspended enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and live entertainment establishments after a local judge found in favor of two strip clubs that defied a state shutdown order and indicated the ruling applied more broadly.

County officials said in a statement Wednesday evening that they and state officials were analyzing the scope of the ruling and discussing next steps, including seeking clarity from the court.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil in his ruling said the two clubs can remain open and make their own determinations about providing safe environments for dancers and patrons during the pandemic.

The scope of the preliminary injunction appeared to extend far beyond the two clubs that sued the state to potentially all of the thousands of restaurants in the county of more than 3 million people.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Seattle mayor extends COVID-19 eviction moratoriums through March

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an executive order Wednesday extending the city’s COVID-19 moratoriums on evictions through March.

The moratoriums, initially established in March, apply to residential, nonprofit and small-business tenants. Previous orders extended the moratoriums through June and through December. Small businesses are defined as those with 50 or fewer employees.

Property owners may not issue notices of termination nor otherwise initiate eviction actions unless there are imminent threats to health and safety. Tenants remain legally obligated to pay rent during the pandemic. But Seattle is requiring landlords to offer payment plans and has banned late charges and interest.

“Our region is still very much in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. New cases and hospitalizations are as high as they have ever been, and residents and businesses continue to feel the deep, economic impact of this crisis,” Durkan said in a news release Wednesday, describing the moratoriums as “critical to helping our communities in this immensely challenging year.”

The city needs help, she added, saying, “We need Congress to act” by sending additional assistance to Seattle.

Read the full story here.

—Daniel Beekman

Hot spot: California hospitals buckle as virus cases surge

FILE – In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, medical personnel prone a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. Hospitals across California have all but run out of intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients, ambulances are backing up outside emergency rooms, and tents for treating the sick are going up as the nation’s most populous state emerges as the latest epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

LOS ANGELES — Hospitals across California have all but run out of intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients, ambulances are backing up outside emergency rooms, and tents for triaging the sick are going up as the nation’s most populous state emerges as the latest epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

On Thursday, California reported a staggering 52,000 new cases in a single day — equal to what the entire U.S. was averaging in mid-October — and a one-day record of 379 deaths. More than 16,000 people are in the hospital with the coronavirus across the state, more than triple the number a month ago.

“I’ve seen more deaths in the last nine months in my ICU than I have in my entire 20-year career,” said Amy Arlund, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center.

While the surging virus has pushed hospitals elsewhere around the country to the breaking point in recent weeks, the crisis is deepening with alarming speed in California, even as the nationwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations this week and the impending release of a second vaccine have boosted hopes of eventually defeating the scourge.

Intensive care unit capacity is at less than 1% in many California counties, and morgue space is also running out, in what is increasingly resembling the disaster last spring in New York City.

Patients are being cared for at several overflow locations, including a former NBA arena in Sacramento, a former prison and a college gymnasium. Standby sites include a vacant Sears building in Riverside County.

Read the full story here.

—John Antczak and Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press

Experts propose vaccine priority list as German deaths rise

An independent expert team on Thursday recommended that people over age 80, residents and staff in nursing homes, and medics at high risk of exposing themselves or others to COVID-19 should be the first in Germany to get the coronavirus vaccine.

The recommendation, which is likely to form the basis of an official decree Friday, comes as Germany grapples with a growing number of new cases and deaths from the coronavirus.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Germany has risen over the past two weeks from almost 350 deaths per day on Dec. 2 to almost 545 deaths per day on Dec. 16.

In total, Germany has recorded over 1.4 million confirmed cases and more than 24,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But Health Minister Jens Spahn has said there’s “light at the end of the tunnel” in the form of vaccines which may become available from Dec. 27 — two weeks after authorities had originally hoped.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

As US rushes to give shots, Tennessee builds vaccine reserve

A vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine that receivedemergency use authorization is seen at George Washington University Hospital, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As states rush to inoculate health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, only Tennessee has prioritized building its own emergency reserve of the coveted vaccine.

An Associated Press review of each state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans shows that Tennessee alone has specified it will hold back a small portion in “case of spoilage of vaccine shipped to facilities.” The state’s initial shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that arrived Monday was not distributed for inoculation, so health care workers had to wait until the second shipment arrived days later.

The move has baffled health care leaders, who say medical workers should take priority, especially as the state hits record case numbers.

“Given the extremely high case counts right now, our frontline health care workers are at higher risk than ever, I would personally advocate for those doses being used rather than stockpiled,” said Dr. Isaac Thomsen, who leads the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program Laboratory.

Despite a federal stockpile created so states can use all of their supplies, Tennessee officials maintain that the reserve is necessary because of the risk of damaging the vaccine, which requires ultracold storage.

“If a hospital receives a case of the vaccine and it’s spoiled or broken, we can immediately deploy that (emergency reserve) to them,” state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said.

Read the full story here.

—Kimberlee Kruesi, 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.

Twitter said that starting early next year, it may also label tweets that advance “unsubstantiated rumors, disputed claims, as well as incomplete or out-of-context information about vaccines” but that may not merit a removal under the new rules.

Read the full story here.

—Barbara Ortutay, The Associated Press

California hospitals buckle as virus cases surge

Hospitals across California have all but run out of intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients, ambulances are backing up outside emergency rooms, and tents for triaging the sick are going up as the nation’s most populous state emerges as the latest epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

On Thursday, the state reported a staggering 52,000 new cases in a single day — equal to what the entire U.S. was averaging in mid-October — and a one-day record of 379 deaths.

In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, EMT Giselle Dorgalli, second from right, looks at a monitor while performing chest compression on a patient who tested positive for coronavirus in the emergency room at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. California reported more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases and 293 deaths on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, setting new daily records as hospitals struggled to keep up with the surge. (Jae C. Hong, / The Associated Press)

More than 16,000 people are in the hospital with the coronavirus across California, more than triple the number from a month ago.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Debunked COVID-19 myths survive online, despite facts

FILE – In this Nov. 21, 2020, file photo, a pedestrian walks past a mural reading: “When out of your home, Wear a mask over your mouth and nose,” during the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco. From speculation that the coronavirus was created in a lab to a number of hoax cures, an overwhelming amount of false information about COVID-19 has followed the virus as it circled the globe over the past year. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

From speculation that the coronavirus was created in a lab to hoax cures, an overwhelming amount of false information clung to COVID-19 as it circled the globe in 2020.

Public health officials, fact checkers and doctors tried to quash hundreds of rumors in myriad ways. But misinformation around the pandemic has endured as vexingly as the virus itself. And with the U.S., U.K. and Canada rolling out vaccinations this month, many falsehoods are seeing a resurgence online.

Here's a look at five stubborn myths -- including ones about masks, vaccines and the flu -- that were shared this year and continue to travel.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

As states rush to give shots, Tennessee alone builds vaccine reserve

As most states rush to inoculate health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, only Tennessee has prioritized building its own emergency reserve of the coveted vaccine.

An Associated Press review of each state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans shows that Tennessee alone has specified it will hold back a small portion in “case of spoilage of vaccine shipped to facilities.” The state’s initial shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that arrived Monday was not distributed for inoculation, so health care workers had to wait until the second shipment arrived days later.

The move has baffled health care leaders, who say medical workers should take priority, especially as the state hits record case numbers.

Notably, Tennessee ranks second in the country for new cases per capita with roughly 1,369 confirmed cases per 100,000 people, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University. At the same time, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, has refused to implement a statewide mask mandate and has chosen to stress the importance of personal responsibility to curb the spread of the virus.

“Please allow those 975 vaccines in your office in your Twitter photo op to be for front line workers,” wrote Dr. James Parnell, president of the Tennessee chapter of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, on social media.

“Even a single dose is more effective than a dose in a box,” Parnell added.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Twitter to start removing COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

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

Among posts that will removed are 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, the company said in a blog post.

Twitter 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.

Facebook and YouTube have also announced they will remove misinformation about the vaccines.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

8 nuns die of COVID-19 in one week at Wisconsin convent

Eight nuns living at a suburban Milwaukee convent have died of COVID-19 in the last week, according to the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province.

A statement from the congregation says there are other confirmed cases of the coronavirus among the 88 sisters living at the Notre Dame of Elm Grove. The deaths of the eight nuns occurred since Dec. 9.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Inslee: Washington state to receive 40% fewer COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine allocation will be reduced next week by 40%, according to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Inslee said in a tweet Thursday morning that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed the state of the cut with no explanation.

The CDC “has informed us that WA’s vaccine allocation will be cut by 40 percent next week — and that all states are seeing similar cuts,” he wrote. “This is disruptive and frustrating.”

“We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success,” added Inslee.

Officials in states across the nation said they were alerted late Wednesday that their second shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine next week had been reduced, The Washington Post reported.

The information to states, offered with no explanation, sparked widespread confusion and spurred the company’s CEO to put out a statement saying it had millions more doses than were being distributed.

A total of 2.9 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and the German company BioNTech was allocated this week, and 5.9 million doses of Moderna’s regimen are poised to go out next week if the vaccine is authorized this week, as expected.

Read the developing story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

Seattle was nation's saddest metro area, survey shows

Even in normal times, some people who live in Seattle start to feel down around this time of the year. The gray and drizzle has set in, and we can look forward to six more months of it.

But 2020 is anything but normal. On top of the lack of sunlight, cases of the novel coronavirus are surging here, and we’re locked down again. It’s particularly painful, given how well we were doing containing the spread of the virus over the summer.

In the warmer months, we could easily socialize and exercise outdoors, where the risk of virus transmission is much lower. Those things aren’t nearly so pleasant in the cold and damp. We’re spending more time inside now, and more time alone.

A new survey from the U.S. Census Bureau found that in mid-November, just about half of Seattle-area adults said they were dealing with feelings of depression. Of the slightly more than 3 million people age 18 and older in our metro area, an estimated 1.5 million were feeling “down, depressed, or hopeless” at least a few days over the previous week.

Read the column here.

—Gene Balk, FYI Guy

Netherlands aims to begin Pfizer-BioNTech shots by Jan 8

Suited-up medical workers wait for the next patient at a COVID-19 testing facility in Utrecht, Netherlands, (Peter Dejong / The Associated Press)

The Dutch health minister said Thursday that coronavirus vaccinations using the Pfizer-BioNTech shots will start Jan. 8 if the European Union’s medicines agency approves it for use next week.

The first vaccines will be given to staff at nursing homes and other health care professionals.

In neighboring country Germany, authorities said Wednesday that vaccinations would start in nursing homes on Dec. 27.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

EU agency moves forward meeting on Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

The European Union’s medicines agency announced Thursday that it has moved forward a meeting from Jan. 12 to Jan 6 to consider authorizing a coronavirus vaccine made by Moderna for use in the 27-nation bloc.

The decision came after Moderna sent the last package of data on the vaccine needed for the agency to assess it for the EU market, the EMA said.

The EMA’s approval is valid in all 27 EU countries and once it is granted, countries can start receiving vaccines for immunization campaigns.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Swedish king: Sweden has failed to protect the elderly

Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf said Thursday he believes his country has failed to protect the elderly in care homes from the effects of the pandemic.

His comments followed the conclusions presented Tuesday by an independent commission that looked into Sweden’s handling of the pandemic. It said authorities proved unprepared and ill-equipped to meet the pandemic.

Sweden stood out among European and other nations for the way it has handled the pandemic, long not mandating lockdowns like other nations but relying on citizens’ sense of civic duty.

The country of 10 million has seen 357,466 cases and reported 7,893 deaths, according to the latest figures.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

US jobless claims rise to 885,000 amid resurgence of virus

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose again last week to 885,000, the highest weekly total since September, as a resurgence of coronavirus cases threatens the economy’s recovery from its springtime collapse.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of applications increased from 862,000 the previous week. It showed that nine months after the virus paralyzed the economy, many employers are still slashing jobs as the pandemic forces more business restrictions and leads many consumers to stay home. The number of claims was much higher than the 800,000 that economists had expected.

Washington state received 20,361 new initial unemployment claims, a drop of 5,262 or 20.1% from the previous week, according to federal data. The state Employment Security Department reports its own figures later today; those numbers often differ from the federal ones.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Cayman Islands jails U.S. college student in coronavirus case

A U.S. college student and her boyfriend have been sentenced to four months in prison in the Cayman Islands for violating strict COVID-19 measures following a recent ruling that will be appealed, their attorney said Thursday.

Skylar Mack, 18, of Georgia, and Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, of the Cayman Islands, have been in prison since Tuesday, when the ruling was issued. They had both pleaded guilty, but their attorney, Jonathon Hughes, said he will argue for a less severe sentence next week.

“They’re two young people who have never been in trouble before,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “This is the first time they’ve had interaction with police, the courts, prison.”

Mack arrived in the Cayman Islands on Nov. 27 and was supposed to undergo a two-week quarantine as mandated by the government, which electronically tracks anyone who arrives in the British Caribbean territory. However, she broke quarantine on Nov. 29 when her boyfriend picked her up to attend a water sports event, Hughes said.

After their arrest, a judge ruled the couple had to provide 40 hours of community service and pay a $4,400 fine. 

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

'Slightly exciting' to find extra vaccine doses, says UW pharmacy chief

Pharmacists at Swedish Health Services quickly noticed leftover volume in the COVID-19 vaccine vials Tuesday, their first full day of vaccinations, said Jim Lacy, executive director of pharmacy. It’s fairly common for vials of injectable medication to contain some “overfill,” he said, so they weren’t surprised.

Some of the vaccine vials contained enough for six doses, and some seemed to have enough for seven. But without explicit approval from the FDA, Swedish did not administer the extra doses Tuesday, Lacy said.

They will start doing so on Wednesday, after FDA said it was acceptable.

“We’re happy that we can actually get at least six doses,” Lacy said. “It definitely increases our supply.”

UW Medicine’s chief pharmacy officer, Steve Fijalka, said UW Medicine only got five doses of vaccine out of the first three vials it used during vaccinations Tuesday. 

Steve Fijalka, UW Medicine pharmacy director, hands over a tray of doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to be put into a freezer Monday at the UW Medical Center in Seattle. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Fijalka said about two-thirds of a single dose remained in the used vials. It would be out of standard sterile practice to mix the remainders of different vials, Fijalka said.

Syringes and needles can vary, Fijalka said, and some could pull “a very small volume” of additional liquid, which would remain in dead spaces where the syringe and needle connect. The amount and dilution of vaccine administered would remain consistent.

Minute differences in syringe design could account for the additional doses. It could also come down to who is drawing the liquid. 

“These are small vials with a tiny rubber dam on top. To get every drop of liquid out of there takes technique,” Fijalka said. 

It’s also possible, though unlikely in his view, that Pfizer was filling vials differently. 

Fijalka said colleagues across the country had reported some were able to pull five doses and some could draw six.

“We’ll obviously be watching it tomorrow when we kick up our full clinic at all the sites,” he said, referring to UW Medicine’s four campuses. “You don’t want to waste anything.”

If workers can draw six doses the majority of the time, they’ll use them, Fijalka said. But, if it’s a rare occasion, it could be difficult for which to train.
“It’s slightly exciting because we’re getting so few doses,” Fijalka said.

Read the story here.

—Sandi Doughton and Evan Bush

Will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines?

Will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines?

Not until there’s enough data from studies in different age groups, which will stretch well into next year.

The Pfizer vaccine authorized in the U.S. this month is for people 16 and older. Testing began in October in children as young as 12 and is expected to take several more months. The Food and Drug Administration will have to decide when there’s enough data to allow emergency use in this age group.

Moderna, which is expected to become the second COVID-19 vaccine greenlit in the U.S., began enrolling study participants ages 12 to 17 this month, and will track them for a year. Testing in children younger than 12 is expected to start in early 2021.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Issaquah high school closes after 2 staff get COVID-19

Issaquah High School announced it is closing for the remainder of the week on Wednesday after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

KOMO-TV reports the high school says the staff members were last on campus on Tuesday. The school district says the high school will shut down for the remaining three day prior to Winter Break.

The closure effects in-person learning, the school’s Light Parade scheduled for Wednesday, meal distribution scheduled for Thursday, and student athletics.

—The Associated Press

Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout draws wary, mixed response

While excitement and enthusiasm greeted the Western-developed coronavirus vaccine when it was rolled out, the Russian-made version has received a mixed response, with reports of empty Moscow clinics that offered the shot to health care workers and teachers — the first members of the public designated to receive it.

Among Russians, hope that the shot would reverse the course of the COVID-19 crisis has become mixed with wariness and skepticism, reflecting concerns about how it was rushed out while still in its late-stage testing to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova speaks to the media in Moscow on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. Kremlin officials and state-controlled media touted the Russian-developed vaccine against COVID-19 as a major achievement, but among Russians, hopes that the shot would reverse the course of the health crisis has become mixed with wariness and skepticism, reflecting concerns about how it was rushed out. (Dmitry Astakhov/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russia faced international criticism for approving a vaccine that hasn’t completed advanced trials but offered it to certain high-risk groups, such as front-line medical workers, within weeks of approval.

One recipient was Dr. Alexander Zatsepin, an ICU specialist in Voronezh, a city 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Moscow, who received the vaccine in October.

“We’ve been working with COVID-19 patients since March, and every day when we come home, we worry about infecting our family members. So when some kind of opportunity to protect them and myself appeared, I thought it should be used,” he said.

But Zatsepin said he still takes precautions against infection because studies of the vaccine’s effectiveness aren’t over.

“There is no absolute confidence yet,” he said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Palestinians left waiting as Israel is set to deploy vaccine

Israel will begin rolling out a major coronavirus vaccination campaign next week after the prime minister reached out personally to the head of a major drug company. Millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control will have to wait much longer.

Worldwide, rich nations are snatching up scarce supplies of new vaccines as poor countries largely rely on a World Health Organization program that has yet to get off the ground. There are few places where the competition is playing out in closer proximity than in Israel and the territories it has occupied for more than half a century.

Israel reached an agreement with the Pfizer pharmaceutical company to supply 8 million doses of its newly approved vaccine — enough to cover nearly half of Israel’s population of 9 million since each person requires two doses. That came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally reached out multiple times to Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

FILE – In this Dec. 9, 2020, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, center, attend the arrival of over 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. Israel plans to begin vaccinating millions of its citizens against COVID-19 this month after Netanyahu personally reached out to the head of the Pfizer pharmaceuticals company. The timetable is very different for the Palestinians, who live under Israeli military rule but have no idea when vaccinations will arrive as they largely fend for themselves in the face of an intense worldwide competition for scarce supplies. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File )

Israel reached a separate agreement with Moderna earlier this month to purchase 6 million doses of its vaccine — enough for another 3 million Israelis.

Israel’s vaccination campaign will include Jewish settlers living deep inside the West Bank, who are Israeli citizens, but not the territory’s 2.5 million Palestinians.

Read the story here.

—Joseph Krauss, The Associated Press

Toughest COVID-19 rules extended to much of south England

Large parts of southern England will be placed under the country’s strictest coronavirus restrictions from this weekend, Britain’s health secretary said Thursday, as infections and hospital admissions continue to surge.

Matt Hancock told lawmakers that cases in the southeast of England have risen 46% in the past week, while hospital admissions there are up by a third.

The extension of the restrictions means a total of 38 million people — or 68% of England’s population — will be living under the highest level of restrictions, Tier 3, from midnight Saturday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Air pollution in eastern Europe adds to pandemic health woes

With the arrival of cold and foggy winter weather amid the pandemic, eastern Europe is facing an extra respiratory health hazard — air pollution.

Countries such as Bosnia and Serbia in the Balkans, and even European Union nations Poland and Croatia, traditionally report high levels of dangerous pollution from heating in winter months.

A TV tower is surrounded by fog in the capital Sarajevo, Bosnia, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. With the arrival of cold and foggy winter weather, eastern Europe is facing another health hazard in addition to the new coronavirus pandemic, dangerous air pollution. (AP Photo/Eldar Emric)

The United Nations has warned in previous years that people in all major cities across the Western Balkans face alarming levels of air pollution that are reducing their life expectancies. This year, the problem is coupled with the soaring COVID-19 infections.

Thousands of new cases have been reported daily in most countries in the region.

High pollution was reported Thursday throughout Poland, a major producer and consumer of coal for energy. The concentration of dangerous dust particles was particularly bad in the southern, coal-mining and industrial areas.

The problem has long plagued Poland and is blamed for high numbers of deaths each year. But this year medical experts say it’s worse due to the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Eldar Emric, The Associated Press

Goodbye to snow day magic?

Dr. Charles Blomquist plays with his Newfoundland Daphne at St. Joseph’s on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Pittsfield, Mass. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)

Is the magic of the snow day lost?

Kids in much of the Northeast are logging into school just like usual today as a storm drops as much as two feet of snow.

But in a few places, superintendents issued orders like this one: "Go build a snowman … We will return to the serious and urgent business of growing up on Thursday."

Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up

A couple walks with their dogs on a path through Westcrest Park in West Seattle Thursday, December 10, 2020.  The park has tall trees, paths for walking and jogging, a play area for children, a dog park and a view of  the city.  Westcrest Park is located at 9000 8th Ave SW. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

• Rainy-day walks: Three parks in South and West Seattle hold lovely views for winter strolling.

• Enjoy a tasty Norwegian tradition this holiday season: making lefse, a tissue-thin vessel for copious amounts of good stuff like butter and sugar.

—Kris Higginson

Catch up on the past 24 hours

• Gov. Jay Inslee significantly eased the standards on reopening school buildings, and the state schools chief urged districts to sit down "immediately to plan for reopening." Bellevue is already planning to bring younger grades back next month. Here's the latest timeline for vaccinating kids.

• How effective is your mask? You may know soon, because plans are afoot for minimum standards and labels. Meanwhile, here's what is known about which masks work best.

• A nice surprise in the vaccine rollout: Pfizer's vials contain extra doses, potentially expanding the country’s supply by millions of doses. And after one U.S. health worker had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, here's the CDC's guidance for people with a history of reacting badly to vaccines.

• "The entire country is one big red hot zone," and COVID-19 is burning up many U.S. hospitals' capacity to treat patients for anything that isn't an emergency.

• The federal government shuts down Friday unless Congress passes a spending agreement. It's looking like a deal is nigh on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that would deliver help to businesses, more aid for jobless people and $600 payments to most Americans. Follow the latest.

• Hundreds of maskless police officers gathered at a "superspreader" event inside a convention center, community groups say as the department battles dozens of infections. That's in a California county where outbreaks are so bad, an average of two people are dying from COVID-19 every hour.

• French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive after attending a summit with European leaders last week.

• If you were exposed, should everyone in your house quarantine? It depends on a few things, but everyone does need to take extra precautions, health experts say.

• No, taking a trip isn’t safe if you’ve already had COVID-19, despite what many travelers think.

—Kris Higginson

How is the pandemic affecting you?

What has changed about your daily life? What kinds of discussions are you having with family members and friends? Are you a health care worker who's on the front lines of the response? Are you a COVID-19 patient or do you know one? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you so our news coverage is as complete, accurate and useful as possible. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, click here.