Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Dec. 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues, prioritizing health care workers and nursing home residents, experts are starting to grapple with the next question: Who comes next?

In Washington, our coronavirus vaccine allocation will be reduced next week by 40%., Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted Thursday morning. “No explanation was given” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said, prompting uncertainty among health care officials over whether or not to start reserving doses.

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.

Starting on Dec. 21, we will not have this daily COVID-19 graphic in our Monday print edition, as the state Department of Health will no longer be reporting coronavirus data on Sundays. Data on Mondays will now incorporate the case and hospitalization counts from the previous day.

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)


Congress averts shutdown; fight continues over pandemic aid

WASHINGTON — Congress passed a two-day stopgap spending bill Friday night, averting a partial government shutdown and buying yet more time for frustratingly slow endgame negotiations on an almost $1 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package.

The virus aid talks remained on track, both sides said, but closing out final disagreements was proving difficult. Weekend sessions were on tap, and House leaders hoped for a vote on Sunday on the massive package, which wraps much of Capitol Hill’s unfinished 2020 business into a take-it-or-leave-it behemoth that promises to be a foot thick — or more.

The House passed the temporary funding bill by a 320-60 vote. The Senate approved it by voice vote almost immediately afterward, and President Donald Trump signed it late Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said both sides remain intent on closing the deal, even as Democrats launched a concerted campaign to block an effort by Republicans to rein in emergency Federal Reserve lending powers. The Democrats said the GOP proposal would deprive President-elect Joe Biden of crucial tools to manage the economy.

Negotiations continued into Friday night but an agreement wasn’t likely before Saturday, lawmakers and aides said. 

—Associated Press

China to begin COVID-19 inoculations with front-line workers

BEIJING — China will soon begin coronavirus inoculations for workers in health care, transport and border control, a senior official said Saturday.

Vice Minister of the National Health Commission Zeng Yixin gave few specifics but said the government was prioritizing those most at risk of catching the virus.

Workers in logistics and in markets selling fresh meat and seafood would also be placed higher on the list of those receiving vaccines, along with the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

China says it has largely contained the spread of the virus domestically, announcing just three new cases of local infection on Saturday, two of them in the capital Beijing and one in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Vaccines produced by Chinese companies are pending approval in Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil, as manufacturers continue testing the vaccines in more than a dozen countries including Russia, Egypt and Mexico. Bahrain became the second country in the world to approve a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine, joining the United Arab Emirates.

—Associated Press

California town says no to tough virus rules, then yes

The little California town of Solvang would normally be jammed with tourists now, strolling a main street bedecked with 100 brightly decorated Christmas trees or pouring into Danish-themed shops and restaurants, some with rooftop windmills, in search of tasty pastries and bric-a-brac like wooden shoes and puppets.

Instead, “People are calling from all over, saying, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ” City Councilman Mark Infanti said earlier this week after the community of about 5,000 announced it would not enforce the latest stay-at-home order Gov. Gavin Newsom put into effect Dec. 6.

Newsom’s order closed many businesses, forbids restaurants from offering anything other than takeout and delivery, and limits retail stores to 20% capacity, a level devastating for Solvang’s small storefronts that at peak times before the pandemic overflowed with shoppers.

The unanimous 5-0 vote by Solvang’s council on Dec. 7 encouraged businesses to stay open. “As of tonight, they can go about their business as they had done,” Councilman Daniel Johnson said following the vote.

That vote was a last hurrah for Johnson and two other councilors — one of them the mayor — whose terms ended one week later. Their replacements took office this week and quickly denounced the resolution and implored the business community to follow the rules.

—Associated Press

India’s coronavirus cases cross 10 million as new cases dip

NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus cases have crossed 10 million with new infections dipping to their lowest levels in three months, as the country prepares for a massive COVID-19 vaccination in the new year.

Additional cases in the past 24 hours dropped to 25,152 from a peak level of nearly 100,000 in mid-September. The epidemic has infected nearly 1% of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, second to the worst-hit United States.

The Health Ministry on Saturday also reported 347 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 145,136.

—Associated Press

Tokyo Olympics Q&A: Costs, IOC, COVID-19, and vaccinations

TOKYO — Much of the focus on the Tokyo Olympics has been on the unprecedented postponement because of the pandemic, and how the Olympics can be held in seven months.

The focus leading up to Christmas falls on the budget and the increasing costs that are being shouldered by Japan. Tokyo organizing committee officials are expected to announce updated figures this week.

The official costs published last year at this time was $12.6 billion. However, Japan’s National Audit Board last year said the costs are much higher than organizers say. Overall spending then was placed at at least $25 billion.

All of this is public money except for $5.6 billion.

Official costs this time are sure to increase by at least $2.8 billion. This is the cost organizers reported earlier this month for the one-year delay. Domestic sponsors are being asked to pay more to make up the shortfall. But most of the burden simply falls on Japanese government entities.

The 2019 budget shows the Switzerland-based IOC contributed about $1.3 billion to fund the Olympics.

Read the full Q&A here.

—Associated Press

Inslee: Federal officials say COVID-19 vaccine-reduction a one-time event, not evidence of wider issues

OLYMPIA — Federal officials have said that next week’s planned reduction in COVID-19 vaccines for Washington is a one-time occurrence and not evidence of a broader problem with distributing the new medicine, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.

Inslee spoke Friday afternoon with U.S. Army Gen. Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed, who is leading the Trump administration’s vaccine program, according to Tara Lee, spokesperson for the governor.

“He told the governor that this was a one-time incident, and is not indicative of long-term challenges with vaccine production,” wrote Lee in an email. “The governor is pleased that he took responsibility and assurances that there will be a stable vaccine supply going forward.”

Inslee had announced Thursday that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Washington’s next weekly coronavirus vaccine allocation would be cut by about 40%.

Federal officials Thursday disputed that characterization, saying no official numbers had been set for next week’s distribution.

But confusion abounded in several states that received similar news. 

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan and Evan Bush

Appeals court blocks San Diego County restaurant openings

SAN DIEGO — A California appeals court has blocked a judge’s order that allowed San Diego County restaurants to resume indoor and outdoor dining.

The brief order issued Friday by the Fourth Appellate Court keeps Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home edict in full effect.

The three-judge panel gave no explanation for its decision, which came after the state requested emergency intervention with California’s health care system “on the brink of collapse.”

On Wednesday, a judge in San Diego allowed thousands of restaurants to offer full service. Those that resumed dining service will have to go back to just takeout and delivery.

—Associated Press

What to expect as Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine rolls out in Washington state

FILE – In this Monday, July 27, 2020, file photo, Nurse Kathe Olmstead, right, gives volunteer Melissa Harting, of Harpursville, N.Y., an injection of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. The U.S. is poised to give the green light as early as Friday, Dec. 18, to a second COVID-19 vaccine, a critical new weapon against the surging coronavirus. Doses of the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health will give a much-needed boost to supplies as the biggest vaccination effort in the nation’s history continues.(AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

With Friday’s emergency approval of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, Washington health officials now have a second tool in the fight against the disease, and it’s one that’s more flexible and should help vaccinate smaller communities farther from major hospitals.  

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were created using the same technology, report similar effectiveness and produce comparable side effects.

But key differences — Moderna is more temperature-stable, can ship in smaller packages and does not require dilution — will shape where public health officials direct these important doses of vaccine and who has access. 

In its first week of shipments, the federal government plans to send out some 6 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine nationwide, Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of federal vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said in a Monday briefing.  

That’s more than twice as many doses as were planned for Pfizer’s first week, reflecting the additional time the government had to plan for shipments from Moderna, Perna said. 

Read the full story here.

—Evan Bush and Sandi Doughton

State health officials report 3,693 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,693 new coronavirus cases and 13 fewer deaths, a result of a recent change in reporting methodology, as of Friday evening.

The update brings the state's totals to 220,268 cases and 3,104 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. Thursday.

In addition, 13,291 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 56 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 57,134 COVID-19 diagnoses and 956 deaths.

Friday's death count is lower than Thursday's because earlier this week, DOH stopped reporting COVID deaths until officials receive a final death certificate, resulting in a temporary decrease in death counts. Health officials expect the deaths to be added back over time.

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

Tacoma Public Schools announces return to in-person instruction beginning in mid-January

Tacoma Public Schools announced Friday its plan to start bringing students back to school for in-person class starting on Jan. 19, following updated guidance from Gov. Jay Inslee this week.

"We are ready for this! Over the last several months, we have prepared by establishing consistent safety protocols and accumulating the necessary personal protective equipment," district superintendent Carla Santorno wrote in an email to families.

Kindergarten students will be the first to return to school for two days per week, either on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, in groups of up to 15 students, the email said.

On the other three days, teachers will provide assignments to students to work from home. Students who receive special education services, and who have been attending in-person class in groups of five or fewer, will continue to go to school in groups of up to 15, the email said.

On Jan. 25, preschool students will start attending school two days per week in groups of up to 15 kids, and on Feb. 1, kindergartners will shift to four days of in-person instruction per week — "but only if the COVID-19 case count in Pierce County drops below 350 cases per 100,000 residents for 14 days," the email said.

On Feb. 8, first and second grade students will also return to school two days per week in groups of 15 of fewer.

"In early 2021, we expect to announce plans to bring back first and second graders four days a week, expand preschool programming and phase in grades 3-5," the email said. "To begin bringing back middle school and high school students, the Pierce County COVID-19 case count needs to drop below 350 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the new state guidance."

For information about steps families must take before their child returns to school, click here.

—Elise Takahama

Fairbanks health system reports vaccine reaction in employee

JUNEAU, Alaska — A female clinician not known to have allergies had a probable severe allergic reaction shortly after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, a Fairbanks health system reported Friday.

The woman began experiencing “a probable anaphylactic reaction” about 10 minutes after receiving the shot Thursday in Fairbanks, the health care system Foundation Health Partners said. Symptoms included tongue swelling, hoarse voice and difficulty breathing — “traditional anaphylactic symptoms,” it said.

She received two doses of epinephrine at the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital emergency department and was discharged about six hours later, a statement from the health system said.

An email seeking comment on the case was sent to Clinton Bennett, a state health department spokesperson.

—Associated Press

Sydney beach suburbs in lockdown as cases rise

SYDNEY — Sydney’s northern beaches will enter a lockdown similar to the one imposed during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March as a cluster of cases in the area increased to 41.

From late Saturday afternoon until midnight Wednesday, residents will only be permitted to leave their homes for five basic reasons: medical care, exercise, grocery shop, work or for compassionate care reasons.

An additional 23 cases were recorded in the 24 hours, including 10 already announced, taking the new cases to 41. All but two of those are from the so-called Avalon cluster, named after a community of about 10,000 people on the northern beaches about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from downtown Sydney.

New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the restrictions are essential if Sydney has any hope of a semi-normal Christmas.

“We’re hoping that will give us sufficient time to get on top of the virus, so that we can then ease up for Christmas and the New Year,” she said.

—Associated Press

Incarcerated person at Airway Heights prison dies of COVID-19

A person incarcerated at Airway Heights Corrections Center has died due to a COVID-19 related illness, the Department of Corrections (DOC) reported Friday.

The unidentified person died "at a local healthcare facility" near the prison, located in Spokane County, the DOC said in a news release. The agency has stopped disclosing the names of people who die in its custody due to COVID-19, citing privacy concerns.

It's the fifth COVID-related death of an incarcerated person in DOC custody, and the first at Airway Heights. One state correctional officer also has died due to the virus. Airway Heights has placed living units on quarantine to try to limit the outbreak.

COVID-19 infections are surging in prisons across Washington, leading community advocates to call for the release of more inmates and improvements to health conditions.

As of Friday, the DOC reported 2,148 active cases at DOC facilities, including Airway Heights, Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Mason County, and Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen.

—Jim Brunner

US clears Moderna vaccine for COVID-19, 2nd shot in arsenal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. added a second COVID-19 vaccine to its arsenal Friday, boosting efforts to beat back an outbreak so dire that the nation is regularly recording more than 3,000 deaths a day.

Much-needed doses are set to arrive Monday after the Food and Drug Administration authorized an emergency rollout of the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health.

The move marks the world’s first authorization for Moderna’s shots. The vaccine is very similar to one from Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech that’s now being dispensed to millions of health care workers and nursing home residents as the biggest vaccination drive in U.S. history starts to ramp up.

Early results of large, still unfinished studies show both vaccines appear safe and strongly protective although Moderna’s is easier to handle since it doesn’t need to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

‘Obamacare’ enrollment rising as COVID-19 pandemic deepens

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sign-ups for “Obamacare” health insurance plans are trending more than 6% higher amid surging coronavirus cases and deepening economic misery, according to preliminary figures released Friday by the government.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services, or CMS, said more than 8.2 million people had signed up through the close of open enrollment Dec. 15 in the 36 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website.

Of some 28 million uninsured Americans before the pandemic, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates more than 16 million were eligible for some form of subsidized coverage through the health law.

With coronavirus shutdowns leaving even more people uninsured, President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to build on the Affordable Care Act to provide coverage to all Americans. His path forward doesn’t look that easy, since he will come into office with a closely divided Congress and most Republicans still opposed to “Obamacare.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Passenger dies after a medical emergency on a United flight. Now the CDC wants to reach fellow passengers.

United Airlines said Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had requested the passenger manifest of an Orlando-to-Los-Angeles flight that diverted to New Orleans because of a medical emergency on Monday.

The man who became ill on the plane was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The passenger had filled out a required checklist before flying, saying he had not tested positive for the novel coronavirus and did not have symptoms. United says now that “it is apparent the passenger wrongly acknowledged this requirement.”

United referred questions about the man’s coronavirus status to the CDC.

It was not clear Friday if any passengers had been contacted by the CDC. The crew of four flight attendants is quarantining for 14 days per written guidelines, according to Taylor Garland, spokesperson for Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents flight attendants at 17 airlines including United.

Read the full story here.

—By Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post

McMenamins pleads with Washington and Oregon governors to reintroduce indoor dining 'on some level'

Portland brewpub and hotel chain McMenamins is pleading with Washington and Oregon governors to allow indoor dining "on some level" in its restaurants, insisting that the current system "is not sustainable," according to a letter the business sent to Gov. Jay Inslee and Gov. Kate Brown on Friday.

Before the pandemic, the family-owned chain employed more than 3,000 people across 56 locations in Oregon and Washington, but, after laying off more than half its staff, it currently has 1,320 active employees, according to a statement from McMenamins.

"We are a family-owned and operated business, but we are considered too big for the majority of small business relief packages," the letter sent to Inslee and Brown said. "We were making strides toward recovering through a lot of creative maneuvering and shifts in our businesses model before the recent lockdowns in Oregon and Washington, but that has come to a halt."

The company has taken several steps to combat pandemic-related cuts, the letter said, including expanding outdoor dining, takeout and retail services, and adding curbside pickup and holiday meal packages.

"And yet, it's not enough. ... We understand the seriousness of this novel virus, and we have diligently complied with all restrictions," the letter said. "We agree with many of the restrictions put in place and at their last stage before shutdown, with limited indoor seating, we believe they were working."

The McMenamin family closed the letter by reinforcing their plea that limited, socially distanced indoor dining is much more sustainable for them to stay open, adding, "We owe it to our employers, our families, and our communities to make this plea."

—Elise Takahama

COVID vaccines arrive in Snohomish County

EVERETT – Nearly a year after the first case of COVID-19 in the United States was confirmed in a Snohomish County man, the hospital that treated him, Providence Regional Medical Center, received 3,900 doses of the new Pfizer vaccine on Thursday.

“This first round of vaccines will protect those on the frontlines of COVID patient care and individuals most at risk," Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a Snohomish Health District update issued Friday. "Though we must remain vigilant as vaccine production ramps up, vaccination gives us all hope for the New Year.”

Some Providence caregivers who are at the highest risk of contracting the virus began receiving the vaccine on Friday. Vaccines will continue to be distributed based on work location and role.

The first group in Snohomish County eligible for the vaccine — known as Phase 1a— includes 15,000-16,000 high-risk workers in health care settings, high-risk first responders, and employees at long-term care and similar adult care settings. In addition to those employees, there are approximately 10,000-12,000 residents living in the long-term or adult care facilities who are eligible to receive the vaccine.

—By Jenn Smith

California hospitals ‘crushed’ as virus patients flood ICUs

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Increasingly desperate California hospitals are being “crushed” by soaring coronavirus infections with one Los Angeles emergency doctor predicting Friday that rationing of care is imminent.

The most populous state recorded more than 41,000 new confirmed cases and 300 dead, both among the highest single-day totals during the pandemic. In the last week California has reported more than a quarter-million cases and 1,500 deaths.

It’s a scene playing out across nearly all of California. According to state data, all of Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley to the north have exhausted their regular intensive care unit capacity and some hospitals have begun using “surge” space, which includes outdoor tents and vacant gymnasiums.

Statewide, the available ICU capacity on Friday was a minuscule 2.1%.

—The Associated Press

New sheriff in NYC? No, but pandemic lifts obscurity of one

Raids. Checkpoints. Late-night busts. It’s all been part of the job for the lawman tasked with enforcing New York City’s COVID-19 restrictions.

The pandemic crackdown by the New York City Sheriff’s Office raises the question: Is there a new sheriff in a town that barely knew it had one?

This photo provided by the New York City Sheriff, shows a Deputy Sheriff distributing medical face masks in New York’s Washington Square Park, Oct. 21, 2020.  A crackdown on COVID-19 restriction violators has drawn attention to a sheriff in New York City few knew existed. Sheriff Joseph Fucito has worn the badge for the past six years in a civil-enforcement post that hasn’t carried the notoriety of his counterparts with roots in Wild West folklore.  (New York City Sheriff via AP)

The answer: No, Sheriff Joseph Fucito is not a newcomer. He’s worn the badge for the past six years, serving until now in a civil law-enforcement role that hasn’t carried the notoriety of the sheriffs of Wild West folklore.

That changed when, thanks to an expanded role ordered by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Fucito emerged from obscurity as leader of a force that’s normally more focused on assignments like chasing cigarette tax scofflaws and carrying out eviction orders as a division of the city Department of Finance.

In recent months, though, the sheriff’s office has been the primary New York City agency enforcing the rules set up to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Read the story here.

—Tom Hays, The Associated Press

WHO: Vaccine program gets access to nearly 2 billion doses

GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization program to help get COVID-19 vaccines to all countries in need has access to nearly 2 billion doses of “promising” vaccine candidates, officials said Friday.

None of the agreements include the vaccines by Moderna, which took one stop closer to approval in the U.S. on Thursday, or Pfizer-BioNTech, which is already in use in the U.S., Canada and Britain and nearing approval in the European Union.

The initiative WHO is co-leading, known as COVAX, also has yet to receive firm pledges and a timeline from rich countries to share the vaccines they have already secured for themselves.

Of the approximately 12 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year, about 9 billion shots have already been reserved by rich countries. Canada is leading the pack, with around 10 doses reserved per Canadian, according to the science analytics company Airfinity.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agreements mean that some 190 countries and economies taking part in the COVAX initiative will have access to vaccines “during the first half of next year.”

Read story here.

—The Associated Press

UK braces for holiday COVID-19 surge, tighter restrictions

The U.K. entered the final week before Christmas with the country bracing for post-celebration coronavirus fallout and Prime Minister Boris Johnson refusing Friday to rule out a fresh national lockdown after the holiday.

The government plans to relax restrictions on socializing and travel for five days before and after Christmas. With infections rising in the U.K., which has Europe’s second-highest coronavirus death toll, there are concerns about a possible fresh surge of cases and deaths after the holidays.

Officials moved this week to tighten up the existing restrictions for much of the population by putting large parts of southern England into the highest virus alert level, Tier 3, from Saturday.

Asked whether England would follow Northern Ireland in imposing a six-week lockdown starting Dec. 26, Johnson signaled he was prepared to take more drastic action.

“We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that,” Johnson said during a visit to Manchester. “But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Washington Monument closed after interior secretary tests positive for coronavirus

Officials have taken the extraordinary step of closing the Washington Monument starting Friday as a precaution after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt — who gave a private, nighttime tour to associates this week — tested positive for the coronavirus.

Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin confirmed the temporary closure, saying the department acted after consulting with federal health officials and that Bernhardt led other Trump DOI appointees on the tour earlier this week.

Some National Park Service staff at the site said they were near the secretary during his tour and are now in quarantine, leading to a staffing shortage at the monument, Goodwin said.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

US awaits word on 2nd vaccine as COVID-19 outbreak worsens

 The U.S. stood on the verge of adding a second COVID-19 vaccine to its arsenal Friday as the outbreak descended deeper into its most lethal phase yet, with the nation regularly recording over 3,000 deaths per day.

The Food and Drug Administration was evaluating a shot developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health and was expected to give it the green light soon, clearing the way for its use to begin as early as Monday.

That would give the U.S. a critical new weapon against the coronavirus in addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine now being dispensed to millions of health care workers and nursing home patients as part of the biggest vaccination drive in American history.

The go-ahead from the FDA would mark the world’s first authorization of Moderna’s shots. Large but unfinished studies show that both vaccines appear safe and strongly protective, though Moderna’s is easier to handle, since it does not need to be kept at ultra-frozen temperatures like the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. Both require two doses for full protection.

A second vaccine represents a ray of hope amid despair as the virus continues to spread unabated even before holiday gatherings certain to further fuel the outbreak

The virus has claimed more than 310,000 U.S. lives and killed 1.6 million people worldwide. New cases in the U.S. are running at over 216,000 per day on average. Deaths per day have hit all-time highs, eclipsing 3,600 on Wednesday.

Read the story here.

—Lauren Neergaard and Matthew Perrone,, The Associated Press

Shut down by corona, Berlin restaurant opens for homeless

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made life on the streets of Berlin any easier for Kaspars Breidaks.

Homeless man Kaspars Breidaks from Latvia poses for a portrait during an interview with the Associated Press in guest room of Berlin’s biggest restaurant Hofbraeu Berlin, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. The restaurant which had to closed due to the corona pandemic has opened its doors for homeless people. Starting this week the Hofbraeu Berlin offers free meals, a place to warm up and counseling for up to 150 homeless people per day. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

For three months, the 43-year-old Latvian has faced homeless shelters operating at reduced capacity so that people can be kept at a safe distance from one another. And with fewer Berliners going outdoors, it’s much harder to raise money by panhandling or collecting bottles to sell for recycling.

But on a chilly winter morning this week Breidaks found himself with a free hot meal and a place to warm up, after the German capital’s biggest restaurant, the Hofbraeu Berlin — itself closed down due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions — shifted gears to help the homeless.

“Other homeless people at the train station told me about this place,” Breidaks said, removing a furry black hat with long ear flaps as he sat on a bench in the warm, spacious beer hall near Berlin’s landmark Alexanderplatz square. “I came here for hot soup.”

It was a restaurant employee who volunteers at a shelter who proposed opening up the shuttered Bavarian-style beer hall — patterned after the famous Munich establishment of the same name — to the homeless.

It was a clear win-win proposition, said Hofbraeu manager Bjoern Schwarz. As well as helping out the homeless during tough times the city-funded project also gives needed work to employees — and provides the restaurant with welcome income.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pelosi, McConnell get COVID-19 vaccine, urge others to do so

WASHINGTON (AP) — The legislative branch of government is rapidly moving to receive the coronavirus vaccine, with both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell getting the shot on Friday and the top Capitol doctor urging all members of Congress to join them.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Capitol in Washington on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

Both Pelosi and McConnell tweeted photos of themselves receiving the vaccine from the Capitol physician, Dr. Brian P. Monahan. Monahan informed lawmakers Thursday evening that they are all eligible for the shots under government continuity guidelines and asked members of the House and Senate to make appointments with his office to be vaccinated.

The leaders’ vaccinations came hours after Vice President Mike Pence received it on live television and called it a “medical miracle.” The public displays from all three come as top U.S. health officials are trying to convince regular Americans who may be skeptical of the vaccinations to get them and allow the country to rebound from the pandemic.

It is unclear whether all 535 members of the House and Senate will choose to get the vaccine. Only about half of Americans say they are willing to get it, according to a survey this month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, despite a rigorous federal review process and health officials’ insistence that it is safe.

Read story here.

—The Associated Press

Swiss to shut restaurants, other sites as virus cases climb

GENEVA (AP) — The Swiss government said Friday it is ordering the closure of restaurants, bars, cultural venues and sports facilities next week in a renewed bid to stem a continuing rise in coronavirus cases.

The government said that it’s looking at new aid for affected businesses and would compensate “cultural actors” for financial losses while expanding eligibility for those in need of urgent aid.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Switzerland has risen over the past two weeks from about 43 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 3 to just over 50 new cases per 100,000 people as of Thursday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Black Santa coming to town Saturday at Rainier Beach

Remember Black Santa? He’s been coming to town for 10 years, and COVID-19 will not deter his visit this year though concessions to the virus will be made.

The hugging and lap-sitting enjoyed at Seattle’s Original Black Santa‘s usual visit will have to wait for another trip around the sun, but the warmth and affection remain, according to event host K. Hart of FB2T Photography.

This year’s event will take place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of Rainier Beach Community Center, 8825 Rainier Ave. S., and will feature Santa in a drive-through, contact-free booth.

Read more here.

—Christine Clarridge

Canada to get 500k doses

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday Canada will be getting 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in January and that Canadians will be soon be saying “good riddance to 2020.”

But Minister of Public Services and Procurement said Canada won’t have enough doses for all those who wish to be vaccinated until the end of September, 2021.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

More than 13K vaccinated in Puerto Rico; new doses en route

More than 13,000 people in Puerto Rico have received the COVID-19 vaccine since the first dose was administered earlier this week, with the U.S. territory expecting tens of thousands of additional vaccines to arrive in upcoming weeks, officials said Friday.

Dr. Iris Cardona, sub-secretary of Puerto Rico’s Health Department, said some 21,400 Pfizer vaccines will be delivered weekly for the next four to six weeks. If the Moderna vaccine is approved, she said the island will receive the first 47,500 doses next week of a total of 60,400 requested.

First in line to be vaccinated are health workers, emergency responders, hospital employees and those who live or work in shelters or nursing homes.

The government has said it hopes to vaccinate 70% of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million inhabitants by August at the latest.

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—The Associated Press

Demand is low for COVID-19 antibody drugs but shortages loom

U.S. health officials are seeing an astonishing lack of demand for COVID-19 medicines that may help keep infected people out of the hospital, drugs they rushed out to states over the past few weeks as deaths set new records.

Red tape, staff shortages, testing delays and strong skepticism are keeping many patients and doctors from these drugs, which supply antibodies to help the immune system fight the coronavirus. Only 5% to 20% of doses the federal government allocated have been used.

FILE – This photo provided by Eli Lilly shows the drug Bamlanivimab, the first antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19. Antibodies are made by the immune system to fight the virus but it can take several weeks after infection for the best ones to form. This and a Regeneron medication aim to help right away, by supplying concentrated doses of one or two antibodies that worked best in lab tests. (Courtesy of Eli Lilly via AP)

Ironically, government advisers met Wednesday and Thursday to plan for the opposite problem: potential future shortages of the drug as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Many hospitals have set up lottery systems to ration what is expected to be a limited supply, even after taking into account the unused medicines still on hand.

Only 337,000 treatment courses are available and there are 200,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, “so the supply certainly cannot meet the demand,” said Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, whose experts panel met to discuss the drugs.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Virus outlier Sweden adopts more restrictions as cases rise

A healthcare worker at the intensive care unit (ICU) in Stockholm’s Sodersjukhuset hospital. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden is tightening nationwide coronavirus restrictions by requiring many people to work from home and reducing the number who can gather in restaurants, shops and gyms starting next week, but the government decided against ordering the country’s first full lockdown to control a recent spike in virus cases, the prime minister said Friday.

Sweden has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic. The Scandinavian country has not gone into lockdowns or closed businesses, relying instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control infections.

However, the country has seen a rapid increase in confirmed cases that is straining the health care system. The new restrictions taking effect on Dec. 24 include making face masks mandatory on public transportation and pushing up a nationwide cutoff time for bars and restaurants to sell alcohol to 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m..

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Why Metro Transit is canceling dozens of bus trips a day

After picking up passengers, a King County Metro bus driver heads south on Third Avenue near Benaroya Hall on April 2. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

King County Metro Transit riders are coping with sudden trip delays and cancellations because of an operator shortage, blamed mostly on the coronavirus outbreak.

Metro has missed a total 516 runs this workweek, as of midday Thursday. The agency normally provides 11,000 one-way bus runs per day, by 2,800 employees.

Many are staying home because they’re exposed to or ill with COVID-19, caring for family members, or taking leave as a precaution.

In general, Metro is trimming trips from frequent-use routes, rather than leaving more-sparsely populated neighborhoods stranded.

These cutbacks would ordinarily cause crowding, but Metro bus ridership is only about 32% of pre-COVID use, which hovered around 400,000 passengers per weekday.

Read the story here.

—Mike Lindblom

UN head stresses need of virus vaccine for all nations

The secretary general of the United Nations on Friday stressed that as wealthy nations roll out the coronavirus vaccine for their citizens, the world also needs to ensure it is available for “everyone, everywhere.”

In an address to Germany’s parliament, Antonio Guterres said the challenge now is to "ensure that vaccines are treated as a public good — accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

1 in 5 prisoners in the US has had COVID-19, 1,700 have died

One in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate more than four times as high as the general population. In some states, more than half of prisoners have been infected, according to data collected by The Associated Press and The Marshall Project.

As the pandemic enters its 10th month — and as the first Americans begin to receive a long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine — at least 275,000 prisoners have been infected, more than 1,700 have died and the spread of the virus behind bars shows no sign of slowing. New cases in prisons this week reached their highest level since testing began in the spring, far outstripping previous peaks in April and August.

“That number is a vast undercount,” said Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer at New York’s Rikers Island jail complex.

FILE – In this Oct. 13, 2020, file photo, family members of inmates incarcerated in the Utah Department of Corrections’ prison system hold candles and say a prayer following a rally outside the Department of Corrections office in Draper, Utah. One in five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate more than four times higher than the general population. In some states, more than half of prisoners have been infected, according to data collected by The Associated Press and The Marshall Project. (Steve Griffin/The Deseret News via AP, File)

Venters has conducted more than a dozen court-ordered COVID-19 prison inspections around the country. “I still encounter prisons and jails where, when people get sick, not only are they not tested but they don’t receive care. So they get much sicker than need be,” he said.

Yet, as vaccine campaigns get underway, there has been pushback in some states against giving the shots to people in prisons early.

“There’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners … before it goes to the people who haven’t committed any crime,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told reporters earlier this month after his state’s initial vaccine priority plans put prisoners before the general public.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press and The Marshall Project

Former Standing Rock tribal chairman dies of COVID-19

The former chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has died after contracting COVID-19, about a month after his wife passed away from the coronavirus, his family said.

Jesse “Jay” Taken Alive, 65, was hospitalized in late October and died Monday, according to his brother, Virgil Taken Alive. His wife, Cheryl Taken Alive, 64, died Nov. 11, according to an obituary.

Jesse Taken Alive taught Lakota culture and language at a school in his hometown of McLaughlin, South Dakota, until he became ill, his brother said. The students called him “Lala Jay.” Lala is the Lakota word for grandfather.

Jesse Taken Alive won a seat on the tribal council in 1991 and spent 24 years in tribal government, serving as its chairman from 1993 to 1997.

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border, was at the center of months of protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016 and 2017.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up

Hide from the rain and add cheer to your weekend with these activities, from making a gingerbread house from scratch (what a fun read) to watching a good show.

Movies, old and new, brought comfort and pleasure in this tough year. Here are the ones that stood out to critic Moira Macdonald.

What should Moira’s Book Club read next? It's time to vote for the next two selections. Plus, here are three nonfiction books that offer new perspectives for 2021.

—Kris Higginson

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Seattle’s youngest learners will return to school by March, the School Board decided last night after Gov. Jay Inslee loosened the standards for reopening. But the district still must survey families about their comfort level and negotiate with the teachers union.

Vaccine hoaxes are rampant on social media. Know how to spot them.

VP Mike Pence got his vaccine on live TV this morning. President Donald Trump hasn't gotten it, though.

An emotional moment unfolded at the Lummi Nation as it became one of the first tribal nations in the U.S. to vaccinate its members against the virus, which has had a devastating impact on some American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

California is staring down the barrel of a "terrifying" explosion in COVID-19 cases. If projections are right (they're becoming alarmingly accurate), about 400 Californians may die every day.

How many superspreader events will happen around the Christmas tree? Doctors are worried as 85 million Americans prepare to travel. If you have to go, know how to minimize the risks. And no, travel isn't safe if you've already had COVID-19. Here's why.

Seattle's mayor has extended COVID-19 eviction moratoriums until spring. Here's what to do if you get an eviction notice.

—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.