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 It is no longer being updated.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

A week after the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration approved a second one Friday, boosting efforts to beat back the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were created using the same technology and report similar effectiveness, Moderna’s is more temperature-stable, can ship in smaller packages and doesn’t require dilution. Here’s what to expect as the second COVID-19 vaccine rolls out in Washington.

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.

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)


Congressional leaders remove obstacle for weekend agreement on COVID relief

Top congressional lawmakers struck a late-night agreement on the last major obstacle to a COVID-19 economic relief package costing nearly $1 trillion, clearing the way for votes as early as Sunday.

A Democratic aide said in an email that an agreement had been reached late Saturday and that compromise language was being finalized to seal a deal to be unveiled on Sunday.

The breakthrough involved a fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers that was defused by an odd couple: the Senate’s top Democrat and a senior conservative Republican.

“We’re getting very close, very close,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier Saturday as he spent much of the day going back and forth with GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Toomey had been pressing a provision to close down Fed lending facilities that Democrats and the White House said was too broadly worded and would have tied the hands of the incoming Biden administration.

The COVID-19 legislation has been held up after months of disfunction, posturing and bad faith, but talks turned serious in December as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before exiting Washington for Christmas.

The bill, lawmakers and aides say, would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefits and $600 direct stimulus payments to most Americans, along with a fresh round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and funding for schools, health care providers, and renters facing eviction.

Read the updating story here.

—The Associated Press

King County's public health officer discusses COVID-19 at virtual show featuring local musicians

King County's public health officer, Dr. Jeff Duchin, joined local musicians including Dave B at a virtual show Saturday to discuss COVID-19 with a young audience.

It was the third "Safe in Sound" show hosted by The Vera Project and Public Health — Seattle & King County. The partnership was formed to address the high number of cases among people under 40 in the state.

“Us pairing with Public Health is weird and a little bit eye-catching right off the bat,” Ricky Graboski, executive director of The Vera Project, told The Seattle Times earlier this month. “What we’re trying to do with this series is book a bunch of really great musical acts young people love — this nightlife world they can’t be a part of now — and bring that back with streamed concerts.”

—Seattle Times staff

CVS, Walgreens relax vaccine consent requirements for long-term care facilities

Two pharmacy chains that will provide the coronavirus vaccine to most of Washington state’s long-term care residents and staff have relaxed their requirements for written consent, which some experts saw as a significant hurdle in the process.

CVS and Walgreens will begin vaccinations at nursing homes in the state Dec. 28 and will ultimately visit more than 2,600 of Washington’s long-term care facilities. Until this week, the chains told facilities that consent would have to be obtained through written forms. Walgreens also indicated that forms had to be filled out the day of vaccination.

Experts told The Seattle Times this would pose a challenge to facilities, as many residents need a family member or health care proxy to sign for them, yet facilities are mostly locked down and staff are stretched thin.

In response to the concern, CVS changed its policy earlier this week to allow verbal or electronic consent, although written consent is still preferred. A company spokesperson said CVS communicated the change to facilities this week.

Walgreens said it “provided flexible formats” and would allow facilities to follow their standard protocols, according to a statement. Walgreens spokespeople did not respond Friday to clarify what options would be allowed.

Read the full story here.

—Asia Fields

Sounders raise $1 million for local restaurants affected by fans’ absence at games

The teams come out for Thursday evening’s match.  The Portland Timbers played the Seattle Sounders FC in MLS action Thursday, October 22, 2020 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

The Sounders FC shuttered their namesake Relief Fund, distributing more than $1 million in grants to those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Club majority owner Adrian Hanauer and his family made an initial $500,000 donation to establish the Fund in March when it became clear fans wouldn’t be able to attend matches at Lumen Field because of COVID-19. Major League Soccer shut down that month after its 26 teams had played two matches apiece. Both were home games for the Sounders.

The lack of traditional gamedays for the Sounders, Seahawks and Mariners, in addition to government restrictions on restaurants in particular, sent Pioneer Square, SoDo and Chinatown-International District businesses into a tailspin.

The Fund began issuing grants in April. A total of 134 small businesses and 785 individuals received a combined $1,104,340 overall without restrictions on use of the money.

Read the full story here.

—Jayda Evans

CDC advisory panel endorses Moderna vaccine

FILE — The headquarters of the pharmaceutical firm Moderna in Cambridge, Mass., on Nov. 19, 2020. The Food and Drug Administration on Friday, December 18, authorized the coronavirus vaccine made by Moderna for emergency use, allowing the shipment of millions more doses across the nation and intensifying the debate over who will be next in line to get inoculated. (Cody O’Loughlin/The New York Times)

As the coronavirus continued to surge across the United States, an independent panel of experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted on Saturday to endorse a second coronavirus vaccine for use in the United States.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' recommendation follows an emergency authorization granted to the Moderna vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. The committee’s endorsement now awaits final approval by Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, expected shortly.

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

Some 5.9 million doses of the Moderna vaccine are slated for distribution starting on Sunday, and the first inoculations are expected to begin sometime on Monday.

Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was authorized for use in people 16 and older, Moderna’s vaccine is approved only for people 18 and older.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

State health officials report 2,374 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,374 new coronavirus cases as of Saturday.

The update brings the state's totals to 222,600 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. Friday, though the state does not report new death data on weekends. 

In addition, 13,391 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 100 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 57,783 COVID-19 diagnoses and 956 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.

DOH said Saturday's case count update could include up to 200 duplicates.

—Asia Fields

States paid billions for virus supplies in tight market this spring

BYD counts Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway as one of its major investors. Buffett is seen here in 2010 with  BYD founder Chairman Wang Chuanfu. (Kin Cheung / The Associated Press)

States spent more than $7 billion this spring for personal protective equipment and high-demand medical devices such as ventilators and infrared thermometers, according to a nationwide analysis by The Associated Press.

The spending data covers the period from the emergence of COVID-19 in the U.S. in early 2020 to the start of summer. Some governors described the early personal protective equipment marketplace as the Wild West, where supplies often went to the highest bidder, even if they had already been promised to someone else.

California spent the most during the pandemic’s initial months — at least $1.5 billion in the AP’s data — followed by Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington.

The largest supplier of personal protective equipment to states this spring had never sold a single mask before the pandemic. But from mid-March to early June, Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD sold $930 million worth of masks and sanitizer to states. Washington bought tens of millions of N95 masks and similar KN95 masks from BYD this spring at prices ranging from $2.58 to $4.02 each.

Shipments from BYD to Washington were often delayed, and there were issues with the quality and fit of masks, according to reporting by The Seattle Times.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Congressional roadblock imperils weekend deal for emergency relief package

Senior congressional lawmakers attempting to complete an emergency coronavirus relief package this weekend slammed into a major roadblock on Saturday over Republican demands to limit the authority of the Federal Reserve.

A late push from Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., to rein in the nation’s central bank had already divided lawmakers over the last several days. But the impasse appeared to grow significantly wider on Saturday, as congressional leadership and rank-and-file senators on both sides of the aisle dug in over the issue, imperiling prospects for a deal before Monday.

Toomey, a conservative lawmaker on the Senate’s banking committee, has demanded provisions be included in the coronavirus relief package that would curb the ability of the Fed to restart emergency lending programs for localities and small businesses.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Warp Speed general accepts blame for reduced COVID-19 vaccine doses, creates new confusion about quality control

Gen. Gustave Perna, who heads Operation Warp Speed, during a news conference at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)

Gustave Perna, the four-star Army general overseeing the formidable task of distributing coronavirus vaccines, said Saturday he was responsible for the “miscommunication” with states causing them to receive vastly fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the second wave of shipments next week than they had been anticipating.

“I want to assure everybody, and I want to take personal responsibility for the miscommunication,” Perna, who is chief operating officer for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, told reporters. “I know that’s not done much these days, but I am responsible.”

In Washington state, officials learned this week that the shipment would contain 40% less doses than they expected. Federal officials said the problem was a one-time occurrence.

The problem stemmed from mistaken forecasts he initially gave state officials, which did not account for steps involved in actually clearing available vaccine for release, he said. “There is a delay between what is available and what is releasable,” he said, “because we’re talking about hundreds and thousands and millions of doses that we want to make sure are right.”

But he was not clear about the scope of quality assurance, or about why it would delay the release of doses, saying only that the Food and Drug Administration “does a fantastic job doing that.”

The FDA does not review batches of vaccine before their distribution, an agency spokesperson said Saturday in response to requests to explain the process. Under the terms of the agency’s authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the company is required to submit “certificates of analysis for each drug product lot at least 48 hours before vaccine distribution.” But the FDA does not review the information before the product is shipped.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

The inside story of how Trump’s denial, mismanagement and magical thinking led to the pandemic’s dark winter

President Trump speaks during a coronavirus briefing at the White House in Washington on July 23. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford).

As the number of coronavirus cases ticked upward in mid-November – worse than the frightening days of spring and ahead of an expected surge after families congregated for Thanksgiving – four doctors on President Donald Trump’s task force decided to stage an intervention.

After their warnings had gone largely unheeded for months in the dormant West Wing, Deborah Birx, Anthony Fauci, Stephen Hahn and Robert Redfield together sounded new alarms, cautioning of a dark winter to come without dramatic action to slow community spread.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, among the many Trump aides who were infected with the virus this fall, was taken aback, according to three senior administration officials with knowledge of the discussions. He told the doctors he did not believe their troubling data assessment. And he accused them of outlining problems without prescribing solutions.

The doctors explained that the solutions were simple and had long been clear – among them, to leverage the power of the presidential bully pulpit to persuade all Americans to wear masks, especially the legions of Trump supporters refusing to do so, and to dramatically expand testing.

“It was something that we were almost repetitively saying whenever we would get into the Situation Room,” said Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Whenever we got the opportunity to say, ‘This is really going to be a problem because the baseline of infections was really quite high to begin with, so you had a lot of community spread.’ “

On Nov. 19, hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against Thanksgiving travel, Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the coronavirus task force, agreed to hold a full news conference with some of the doctors – something they had not done since the summer. But much to the doctors’ dismay, Pence did not forcefully implore people to wear masks, nor did the administration take meaningful action on testing.

As for the president, he did not appear at all.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Amid COVID-19 cases, judge denies request to free vulnerable detainees at Northwest detention center

A sign that reads “Families Belong Together” hangs on a fence outside the Northwest detention center in Tacoma. (Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press)

A federal judge in Seattle has rejected a request that all vulnerable detainees be immediately released from the Northwest detention center in Tacoma due to concerns about COVID-19 cases at the U.S. immigration enforcement facility.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart on Friday denied the temporary restraining order requested by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), which says officials are putting lives at risk by keeping people locked up in a facility where more than 20 COVID-19 cases have been reported.

To secure a temporary restraining order, plaintiffs must demonstrate their case is ultimately likely to succeed on its merits. NWIRP failed to show that the detainees in Tacoma are "being denied a reasonable right to safety," Robart determined, citing various precautions the facility has taken during the pandemic.

NWIRP has reported that some employees at the facility, which is run by a private company, are failing to wear masks and carry out enough temperature checks. "The court cannot find at this time" that such reports "make the conditions (at the facility) so unsafe" as to qualify as violating the constitutional rights of detainees, Robart ruled.

Immigration officials have slowed arrests and released hundreds of detainees nationwide who are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19, including several dozen from the Northwest detention center.

“But at the end of the day, there are still 80 vulnerable people that remain locked up,” NWIRP legal director Matt Adams wrote in an email earlier this month.

—Daniel Beekman and Nina Shapiro

UK nixes Christmas gatherings, shuts London shops over virus

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the coronavirus pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street, London, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (Toby Melville/Pool Photo via AP)

Millions of people must cancel their Christmas get-togethers and most shops have to close in London and much of southern England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday as he imposed a new, stricter level of coronavirus restrictions on the region to curb rapidly spreading infections.

Johnson said Saturday that the capital and large areas in southern England already placed at the highest level of the U.K. government’s three-tiered coronavirus alert system will move into a new Tier 4 that requires all non-essential shops, hairdressers and indoor leisure venues to close after the end of business hours Saturday.

With just days to go until Christmas, Johnson also announced that a planned easing of socializing rules that would have allowed up to three households to meet in “Christmas bubbles” from Dec. 23 to Dec. 27 , will be canceled for Tier 4 areas and sharply curtailed in the rest of England.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot proceed with Christmas as planned,” Johnson said.

He said he concluded there was “no alternative open to me” and people must sacrifice this Christmas to have a better chance of protecting the lives of loved ones.

No mixing of households will be allowed in Tier 4 except under very limited conditions outside in public places. Travel in and out of Tier 4 areas won’t be allowed unless essential. In the rest of England, people will be allowed to meet in Christmas bubbles for just one day instead of five, as the government originally planned.

The changes upend the plans of millions of people who were looking forward to gathering family and friends next week and force scores to revise their travel plans at the last minute. Before Saturday, government officials maintained they would allow small, private gatherings to go ahead.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

‘Do as I say’: Anger as some politicians ignore virus rules

A sign calling out California Gov. Gavin Newsom for not following his own pandemic protocols at the French Laundry restaurant is seen in San Francisco on Dec. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Juliet Williams)

Denver’s mayor flies to Mississippi to spend Thanksgiving with his family — after urging others to stay home. He later says he was thinking with “my heart and not my head.” A Pennsylvania mayor bans indoor dining, then eats at a restaurant in Maryland. The governor of Rhode Island is photographed at an indoor wine event as her state faces the nation’s second-highest virus rate.

While people weigh whether it’s safe to go to work or the grocery store, the mayor of Austin, Texas, heads to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on a private jet after hosting a wedding for 20. California’s governor dines at a swanky French restaurant with lobbyists, none wearing masks, a day after San Francisco’s mayor was there for a birthday party. Both had recently imposed tough rules on restaurants, shops and activities to slow the spread of the virus.

To the public’s chagrin, some of America’s political leaders have been caught preaching one thing on the coronavirus and practicing another.

Sure, politicians have long been called out for hypocrisy. But during a pandemic that’s forced millions into seclusion and left many without paychecks, such actions can feel like a personal insult — reinforcing the idea “that some people just don’t have to follow the rules while the rest of us do,” says Rita Kirk, a professor of communications at Southern Methodist University.

And that, in turn, hints at even deeper questions.

In a monarchy, a king or queen is special, born to the role, cast as above the rest. In a dictatorship, the ruler often takes more spoils than the ruled. But in a democratic society, where leaders are drawn from among the very people who must abide by their decisions, what happens when those in charge act in ways that suggest they’re above those who are not?

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

United States added record 249,709 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday

First, Theresa Pirozzi’s 85-year-old dad got sick and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Days later, her mom was so weak she could barely walk. Now, instead of getting ready for Christmas, Pirozzi is anxiously awaiting updates from the hospital where both of her parents are in intensive care with the coronavirus.

“I’m not putting up decorations in here. It’s just not right, right now,” Pirozzi said from her parents’ home in Oak Park, California. “I’m physically ill from worry.”

The couple is emblematic of the crisis deepening at an alarming rate in California, where hospitals are being stretched to their limits as the virus explodes across the state. Nearly 17,000 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections as of Friday and a state model that uses current data to forecast future trends shows the number could reach an unfathomable 75,000 by mid-January.

With California’s more than 48,000 new cases leading the way, the United States as a whole added a record 249,709 new cases of COVID-19 in one day, according to Johns Hopkins University. An additional 2,814 people died nationwide, pushing the death toll to more than 313,000.

Texas, Florida, New York and Tennessee all recorded more than 10,400 new cases each. Over the past two weeks, the seven-day rolling average for new cases in the U.S. jumped to 219,324 daily from 183,787, an increase of almost 20%.

Cases were on the rise before Thanksgiving, and holiday gatherings sent them even higher. Health officials now fear the increase will only be compounded through Christmas and New Year’s. In many places, health officials say, people tired of wearing face masks and staying away from others are simply disregarding suggested precautions.

While federal regulators have approved two vaccines to combat the illness and doses already have been given to thousands of people, mainly health care workers, widespread vaccinations for the general public aren’t expected before spring.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Portugal’s armed forces help nursing homes battle the virus

Portuguese Air Force nurse Nuno Carvalho hosts an online COVID-19 Q&A session from an office at the armed forces chiefs of staff headquarters in Lisbon. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Tears well up in Diana Correia’s eyes as she recalls the October day that 24 of the 55 residents of her nursing home in Portugal tested positive for COVID-19.

The stunning discovery set off a scramble to enact the home’s contingency plan and stiffen safety procedures. With some staff sent into isolation, others worked double shifts of up to 16 hours in full protective equipment, leaving them lathered in sweat and bone-weary. Some of the home’s residents, suddenly confined to their rooms or their floor, were bewildered and chafed at restrictions, even trying to take the elevator and escape confinement.

“They were hard times,” Correia says, trying hard to keep her composure. “Very hard times.”

As a resurgence of the pandemic in the fall looked set to overwhelm Portuguese nursing homes like Correia’s, and the country’s public health service struggled to cope, the government mobilized all the resources it could. That included deploying military units.

The soldiers’ mission: fan out across the country to visit hundreds of nursing homes and help shore up their defenses against the pandemic.

Long-term care facilities have proven vulnerable worldwide during the pandemic. The age of their residents, their physical closeness inside what is essentially a large house, and the residents’ underlying health problems put them in peril. On top of that, nursing home staff in Portugal commonly work in several different care homes and travel between them on public transport.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Oregon has sought local suppliers since early scramble for COVID-19 pandemic equipment

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Oregon and other states had to scramble to get protective masks for front-line medical workers, often importing them from China amid intense competition for a dwindling supply.

Now, for perhaps the first time, the state can access them from its own backyard.

Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions, based in Fremont, California, this week sent Oregon its first shipment of 600 N95 masks, produced at its manufacturing facility in Medford, said Debbie Dennis, Oregon’s chief procurement officer.

“To me, that’s a really big deal because until now we have had to go overseas to try to purchase those items,” Dennis said in a phone interview. Masks produced by a U.S. company, 3M, were hard to get amid the demand, she added.

“I think having our own N95 supplier here in Oregon is pretty amazing,” she said.

Under the state’s purchase order, Lighthouse is to provide 200,000 N95 masks per month for 12 months. They’ll initially cost $3.95 each but that should drop to around $3.25 as manufacturing becomes more efficient, Dennis said.

Oregon officials said they learned early during the pandemic that they needed to look locally for connections in the state to help source increasingly scarce personal protective equipment and to make it.

“We have worked to ensure that Oregon does not again face the personal protective equipment shortages we did in the spring, when the national stockpile and available supply was quickly depleted,” said Gov. Kate Brown’s spokesman, Charles Boyle.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Federal officials to Inslee: Washington's vaccine reduction is a one-time occurrence

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%.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan and Evan Bush

Seattle-area teachers will be near the front of the COVID-19 vaccine line, students in the back. What's that mean for reopening schools?

Washington received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines this week, but vaccine makers have only just started testing the group that will likely be the last inoculated: children.

As a result, it could be as late as mid-2021 before most children are vaccinated, several experts say, although older high schoolers may be inoculated sooner because the recently authorized Pfizer vaccine is approved for people 16 and older.

Teachers, however, could be near the front of the line, potentially becoming eligible shortly after first-priority groups such as health care workers and long-term care residents are immunized, a federal advisory group has suggested. The group is meeting Dec. 19-20 to vote on who should be prioritized next.

So what does this mean for reopening school buildings? It’s not entirely clear.

Some school districts have already opened schools without an available vaccine. And many more may choose to do so following Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement Wednesday that loosens disease metric benchmarks guiding when schools reopen.

But districts have followed past state guidance to varying degrees. What might make the real difference, some physicians and disease researchers say, is when a majority of teachers are vaccinated.

“That conversation should be happening now … not the way we’ve always done it [during the pandemic], which is this totally ‘wait and see,’” said Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior & Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. 

Read the full story here.

—Hannah Furfaro

Covid-19 is devastating communities of color. Can vaccines counter racial inequity?

Bill Rawls, mayor of Brownsville, Tenn., said he remains hopeful people reluctant to take a coronavirus vaccine will change their minds. (Photo by William DeShazer for The Washington Post).

Haywood County, a majority-Black community not far from Memphis, has one health department, one nursing home and no hospitals. The fatality rate from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is 50 percent higher than the state average.

But a supply of vaccines based strictly on its population would leave the county in the Tennessee Delta, site of the first known slaying of an NAACP member for civil rights activities, woefully short. There would be too few doses to make a dent in the disease’s burden on residents of color, who have been “devastated, both young and old,” said Gloria Jean Sweet-Love, who lives in Brownsville, the county seat, and serves as president of the NAACP’s state conference.

“Can you believe it?” she asked. “In the richest country in the world.”

To account for the disparity, state officials are doing something unusual. They are taking a portion of their share of shots off the top and rushing it to places beset by poverty, poor housing and other factors most linked to the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on people of color. Explaining the move recently, Michelle Fiscus, who leads Tennessee’s immunization program, said, “Covid-19 has revealed that great disparity in outcomes for Black Americans.”

The approach illustrates the urgent effort by public health agencies to make sure inoculation against a virus that has ravaged communities of color – killing 1 in 1,000 Black Americans by the fall – saves the lives of the most at-risk people. The task is made more difficult by the need to reverse the inequities endangering people of color without enshrining an explicit system of racial preferences in the distribution of shots, which could prompt political blowback and legal challenges. It is harder still because of the limited initial supply of the vaccine, which is pitting essential workers, who are disproportionately people of color, against older Americans.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group has signaled it will recommend prioritization of certain essential workers, in part to address racial disparities exposed by the pandemic. People of color are overrepresented in industries such as food processing and transit, in jobs impossible to do from home. Some of these workers could gain access to the shots early in the new year, after health-care workers and residents and staffers at long-term care facilities.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to vote Sunday on recommendations for the next priority groups, heightening the pressure on state officials to refine their plans. The focus on essential workers as a way to advance equity has gained support from all 14 members of the independent panel of experts. Beth Bell, a clinical professor of global health at the University of Washington who chairs the panel’s vaccine working group, bluntly expressed the calculus: “If we’re serious about valuing equity, we need to have that baked in early in the vaccination process.”

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Here’s what people with allergies should know about COVID vaccines

Allergic reactions reported in two health workers who received a dose of Pfizer’s vaccine in Alaska this week have reignited concerns that people with a history of extreme immune flare-ups might not be good candidates for the newly cleared shots.

The two incidents follow another pair of cases in Britain. Three of the four were severe enough to qualify as anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction. But all four people appear to have recovered.

Health officials on both sides of the pond are vigilantly monitoring vaccinated people to see if more cases emerge. Last week, British drug regulators recommended against the use of Pfizer’s vaccine in people who have previously had anaphylactic reactions to food, medicines or vaccines.

These events are raising questions.

What do we know about the people who had bad reactions? Do we know for sure that their reactions were caused by the vaccine? What about people with a history of severe allergies? What does the FDA say about these reactions? What about Moderna’s vaccine?

Experts are trying to provide answers.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Catch up on the past 24 hours

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.

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 missed more than 516 runs this past workweek. Many are staying home because they’re exposed to or ill with COVID-19, caring for family members, or taking leave as a precaution.

Congress 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 others to join them. It is unclear whether all 535 members of the House and Senate will choose to get the vaccine.

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. In the last week California has reported more than a quarter-million cases and 1,500 deaths.

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 state Department of Health 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.

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

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.

—Daniel Beekman

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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.