Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, December 2, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
Health officials in California reported the first identified omicron case in the U.S. on Wednesday. The individual who tested positive had recently returned from a trip to South Africa. Everyone they were in contact with tested negative, officials said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is designing safety measures against the possible transmision of the virus, including plans to require people traveling to the U.S. to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken a day prior to boarding, even if they are fully vaccinated.
Officials in Brazil are also considering new safety measures as three omicron cases are confirmed in the country. The measures under consideration include requiring proof of vaccination and canceling Carnival celebrations altogether if conditions worsen. Brazil has lost 610,000 lives to the virus, second only to the United States.
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.
Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy vaccine mandate
Disorder and confusion erupted in the halls outside the New Jersey Assembly on Thursday as several Republican lawmakers defied a new requirement to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test and were blocked by state troopers— albeit briefly — from entering the ornate chamber.
Hours later, a state appellate court handed a victory to Republicans who had sued to block the proof-of-vaccination requirement, granting the GOP’s application for a stay of the order and setting a potential hearing date for later this month. It was not immediately clear what effect the ruling would have on the requirement.
Ahead of Thursday’s voting session, at least 10 Republicans strode toward the Assembly chamber on the first day the vaccine requirement was in effect. They were stopped by uniformed troopers for about 10 minutes before they eventually entered without showing any vaccination proof or a negative test. Troopers stationed at the doorway declined to provide an explanation.
“You have no right to stop us,” Assembly member Erik Peterson said. “You see this? You see this, folks? Denying us entry into our house.”
“This is America!” Assembly member Hal Wirths added. Lawmakers compared the situation to something that might happen in a dictatorship.
Cheery British grocery ad with a vaccinated Santa drew 5,000 complaints
A commercial for supermarket chain Tesco featuring Santa Claus wielding a vaccine passport was deemed acceptable by British advertising regulators after viewers submitted a near-record number of complaints that the spot promoted vaccination.
Most of the 5,000 complaints received claimed that the ad, which was posted in mid-November, tried to pressure viewers into getting vaccines and encouraged medical discrimination based on vaccine status, according to the Advertising Standards Authority. Toby King, a spokesperson for the agency, said Thursday that the commercial “doesn’t break our rules and there are no grounds for further action.”
The Tesco ad, created by the Bartle Bogle Hegarty ad agency and set to a rendition of the Queen song “Don’t Stop Me Now,” shows people prevailing through various obstacles (a blackout, a closed mall, a produce shortage that leaves a snowman with an eggplant for a nose) to celebrate Christmas. A news anchor announces at one point that Santa might be quarantined, but then he shows proof of vaccination to a border control agent, inspiring cheers.
Did a collision of COVID-19 and HIV forge the omicron variant?
The omicron variant, now present in at least 23 countries around the world, was probably incubated in the body of a person with an immune system battered by HIV or another immune-compromising condition that can cause a prolonged coronavirus infection, according to the South African scientist who detected the fast-spreading genetic mutant.
Tulio De Oliveira said the emergence of omicron in a patient unable to clear the virus quickly was “the most plausible” origin story for the world’s newest variant of concern.
There’s good reason to think so.
Researchers in the United States and Europe have seen coronaviruses with frightening mutations arise in COVID-19 patients whose natural defenses have been suppressed by drugs to fight cancer, manage autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, or keep transplanted organs from being rejected.
Anti-vaccination ad mysteriously appears at NYC bus stop
At first glance, it looked just like an official New York City public service announcement that listed the Top 10 reasons people should get vaccinated against COVID-19.
But a closer reading revealed that the poster at a B43 bus stop in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn displayed 10 reasons not to get vaccinated. Reason No. 1: “It could kill you.”
The false and blatantly misleading anti-vaccination ad caused an uproar on social media Thursday at a time when city health officials are pushing hard to boost the vaccination rate as a new threat from the omicron variant looms. About 69% of city residents of all ages have been fully vaccinated.
The poster imitated an official vaccination ad released by the city — it used the same font, layout and even the same shade of robin’s egg blue — but conveyed the opposite message.
Variants, boosters turn rich-poor vaccine gap into chasm
The global initiative to share coronavirus vaccines fairly already scaled back its pledge to the world’s poor once. Now, to meet even that limited promise, COVAX would have to deliver more than a million doses every hour until the end of the year in some of the world’s most challenging places.
That seems unlikely: Gavi, the vaccine alliance that helps run COVAX, warned in internal documents that a substantial number of doses might only show up in late 2022 or even 2023 as wealthy countries drag out their donations while locking in contracts for new shots by the hundreds of millions.
Even if the U.N.-backed initiative secured the doses and overcame the logistical hurdles, the developing world would still face a gaping need. COVAX’s new promise is for 1.4 billion doses, but according to the documents, mid- and low-income countries need 4.65 billion to vaccinate 70% of their populations.
And that need is only expected to increase — as many countries pursue boosters and tweaked vaccines that can tackle new variants.
Coronavirus cases in South Africa nearly triple in three days as fears over omicron grow
South Africa’s new daily coronavirus cases have almost tripled in three days, according to new figures released Thursday, raising alarms over the possible spread of the new omicron variant recently detected by the country’s scientists.
New daily confirmed cases rose to 11,535 on Thursday from 8,561 on Wednesday and 4,373 the previous day, according to official statistics. The cases represent a 22.4% positivity rate of people tested for the virus, up from 16.5% on Wednesday, a massive jump from a 1% positivity rate in early November, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said.
The majority of new infections were in the populous Gauteng province around the greater Johannesburg metropolitan area, with 8,280 cases, the NICD said.
“Omicron is probably the fastest-spreading variant that South Africa has ever seen,” said Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation at Stellenbosch University, reacting to news of the increase in cases.
State health officials confirm 2,136 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,136 new coronavirus cases and 77 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 778,916 cases and 9,380 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. Tallies may be higher since data was not updated on Dec. 2, according to DOH.
In addition, 43,217 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 105 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 173,905 COVID-19 diagnoses and 8,821 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 10,786,632 doses and 61.6% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 33,251 vaccine shots per day.
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. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.
South Africa accelerates vaccination campaign amid surge
South Africa has accelerated its vaccination campaign by giving jabs at pop-up sites in shopping centers and transportation hubs to combat a rapid rise in new COVID-19 cases a week after the discovery of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
New daily cases nearly doubled to 8,561 Wednesday, from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics. Scientists said they were bracing for the surge to continue.
Gauteng province, where South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria, are located, is a hotspot of new infections, with more than 70% of the new cases.
Gauteng officials say they were “preparing for the worst” by increasing hospital beds and reopening some field hospitals in anticipation of increased admissions of COVID-19 patients.
Tests indicate the omicron variant, which was first reported in Southern Africa, is spreading quickly and is now in five of South Africa’s nine provinces.
Fact check: Rand Paul’s false claim that masks don’t work
“When you talk about the peer-reviewed studies of masks, there was one done in Denmark, showed that it didn’t work. When you look at all of Sweden — 1.8 million children have not been wearing masks for the last two years, they’ve had zero COVID deaths. And you say, ‘Well, have the teachers been infected?’ Well, it turns out the teachers are infected at the same rate as the rest of the public. So, they’ve had no masks for a year, year and a half. And it has worked. And that’s a whole country.”
— Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in an interview on Fox News, Nov. 29, 2021
When Paul talks about “the peer-reviewed studies of masks,” he is referring to only one study, from Denmark, and he’s twisting what it says, according to a fact-checking article by The Washington Post.
In the British Medical Journal last month, a review of six scientific studies found a 53 percent reduction in COVID-19 incidence from mask-wearing.
Paul’s statement that no Swedish children have died of the disease is also is inaccurate. The official Swedish figures show that 14 people ages 0-19 had died of the disease as of the most recent update.
Omicron and delta spell return of unpopular restrictions
Greeks who are over age 60 and refuse coronavirus vaccinations could be hit with monthly fines of more than one-quarter of their minimum pensions — a get-tough policy that the country’s politicians say will cost votes but save lives.
In Israel, potential carriers of the new omicron variant could be tracked by the nation’s domestic security agency in seeming defiance of a Supreme Court ruling from the last go-round.
Weekly protests in the Netherlands over the country’s 5 p.m. lockdown and other new restrictions have descended into violence, despite what appears to be overwhelming acceptance of the rules.
With the delta variant of COVID-19 pushing up cases in Europe and growing fears over the omicron variant, governments around the world are weighing new measures for populations tired of hearing about restrictions and vaccines.
It’s a thorny calculus made more difficult by the prospect of backlash, increased social divisions and, for many politicians, the fear of being voted out of office.
‘The fire that’s here’: US is still battling delta variant
While all eyes are on the new and little-understood omicron variant, the delta form of the coronavirus isn’t finished wreaking havoc in the U.S., sending record numbers of patients to the hospital in the Midwest and New England.
“Omicron is a spark that’s on the horizon. Delta variant is the fire that’s here today,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine, where an unprecedented 334 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 as of midweek.
The U.S. recorded its first known omicron infection on Wednesday, in a fully vaccinated person who had returned to California from South Africa, where the variant was first identified just over a week ago.
Two more U.S. cases were confirmed Thursday. But there is much that is unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious than previous versions, makes people sicker or more easily thwarts the vaccine or breaks through the immunity that people get from a bout of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, it's the extra-contagious delta variant that's accounting for practically all cases in the U.S.
COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. have dropped by about half since the delta peak in August and September, but at about 86,000 new infections per day, the numbers are still high, especially heading into the holidays, when people travel and gather with family.
To date, COVID-19 has killed over 780,000 Americans with deaths currently running at about 900 per day.
Omicron confirmed in man who attended NYC anime convention
A man who attended an anime convention in New York City in late November tested positive for the omicron variant of the coronavirus when he returned home to Minnesota, marking the second case of the variant in the U.S. and leading officials Thursday to urge thousands of convention attendees to get tested.
The news came a day after the U.S. announced its first case of the variant had been detected in California, in a person who had recently traveled to South Africa.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said there are no confirmed omicron cases among New York residents yet but expected that to change, saying, “We do anticipate there will be more cases.”
The anime convention Nov. 19-21 drew about 50,000 people, according to event organizers, and attendees were required to wear masks and show proof of having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Officials in New York said they were working to trace attendees of the Anime NYC 2021 convention, held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
Pushing COVID-19 boosters, Biden says ‘we need to be ready’
With rising numbers of COVID-19 cases predicted this winter, President Joe Biden on Thursday appealed for Americans to get their boosters and get behind his plan to tackle the new omicron variant through wider availability of vaccines and shots, but without new major restrictions on daily life.
Biden wants to require private insurers to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests and he is tightening testing requirements for people entering the United States, regardless of their vaccination status. While some other countries are closing their borders or reinstituting lockdowns, the president said he would not at this time impose additional clampdowns beyond his recommendation that Americans wear masks indoors in public settings.
“Experts say the COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead this winter, so we need to be ready,” Biden said during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in suburban Maryland after a briefing with scientific advisers.
He said his new strategy “doesn’t include shutdowns and lockdowns,” and he hoped for bipartisan backing.
Mysteries of omicron variant could take weeks to untangle
A pandemic-weary world faces weeks of confusing uncertainty as countries restrict travel and take other steps to halt the newest potentially risky coronavirus mutant before anyone knows just how dangerous omicron really is.
Will it spread even faster than the already extra-contagious delta variant? Does it make people sicker? Does it evade vaccines’ protection or reinfect survivors?
Trevor Bedford, who studies evolution of the coronavirus at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said omicron might not turn out “as bad as we’re perhaps imagining it could be but treating it as such at the moment I think is entirely appropriate.”
Omicron raised alarm because of its sheer number of mutations, more than prior variants had. Possibly 30 are in a key place, the spike protein that lets the virus attach to human cells.
Scientists recognize a few mutations from earlier variants that were more contagious or a bit resistant to vaccination. But they’ve never seen this particular constellation of changes.
As COVID crisis continues, new proposals aim to reduce poverty in Washington state
OLYMPIA — Washington state continues to recover from the economic turbulence of COVID-19, but the recovery hasn’t benefited every segment of society.
Now, Washington officials are eyeing fresh steps and approaches to reduce poverty, including finding new ways to measure the economic recovery and disparities, and to boost the voice of communities often excluded from such policymaking.
The state Department of Social and Health Services is requesting $630,000 in new funding for four new staffers for an “emerging public-private collaboration to define, measure, and build accountability toward a just and equitable future.”
The budget request would fund a project manager, an engagement coordinator, a data scientist, and a specialist in data analytics and visualization, according to the request.
“Historically, traditional measures of economic recovery mask inequality in social and economic well-being, leading to harmful narratives and insufficient investment in equitable social, economic, and health outcomes,” according to the budget request. “A new vision for equitable economic recovery is needed, as well as a new approach to defining, measuring, and building accountability toward a just and equitable future.”
The staffers would work with among others the Poverty Reduction Work Group, convened by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2017, as well as the new state Office of Equity.
India confirms omicron variant cases, says get the shot now
India on Thursday confirmed its first cases of the omicron coronavirus variant in two people who traveled abroad, and a top medical expert urged people to get vaccinated.
The Health Ministry said the cases involved two men in southern Karnataka state who came from abroad. It did not say which country, or if they were vaccinated.
Health official Lav Agarwal said all contacts of the two men have been traced and tested for the virus.
Singapore detects two apparent omicron cases, its first
Singapore’s health ministry said Thursday that preliminary tests detected the new omicron variant of the coronavirus in two passengers who arrived on a plane from Johannesburg, the country’s first suspected cases. It said it is conducting further tests to confirm the results.
The ministry said the two fully-vaccinated Singaporeans were isolated upon arrival on Wednesday and had not interacted in the community.
The ministry said 19 other passengers on the same flight tested negative for COVID-19 and have been placed under quarantine.
Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
At least 50 people in and around Norway’s capital have been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant and the cases are connected to a Norwegian company’s Christmas party in an Oslo restaurant, officials said Thursday.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that those affected live in Oslo and surrounding municipalities, and “the infection detection team in Oslo has contacted the municipalities concerned to start infection detection.”
The government agency said that overall more than 50 cases of omicron have been recorded in Norway with the country’s first two cases announced Monday.
South Korea breaks daily virus record for 2nd straight day
South Korea broke its daily record for coronavirus infections for a second straight day on Thursday with more than 5,200 new cases, as pressure mounted on a health care system grappling with rising hospitalizations and deaths.
The rapid delta-driven spread comes amid the emergence of the new omicron variant, which is seen as potentially more contagious than previous strains of the virus, and has fueled concerns about prolonged pandemic suffering.
South Korea confirmed its first five omicron cases Wednesday night linked to arrivals from Nigeria, prompting the government to tighten its border controls.
The country will require all passengers arriving from abroad over the next two weeks to quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status. South Korea since Sunday had already banned short-term foreign travelers arriving from eight southern African nations, including South Africa, and has now extended the same rules to foreigners coming from Nigeria.
What’s the status of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the US?
What’s the status of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the U.S.?
It’s on hold indefinitely because of legal challenges, but employers can still require the shots.
To control the spread of COVID-19, President Joe Biden previously said businesses with 100 or more employees would need to require COVID-19 vaccination or have workers get tested weekly for the virus. The rule was to take effect Jan. 4, affecting about 84 million workers nationwide.
On Nov. 6, a federal appeals court in New Orleans put the rule on hold, saying it was “a one-size fits-all sledgehammer” that was too broad. Ten days later, all challenges to the requirement were consolidated in another appeals court in Cincinnati.
Biden plans to extend mask mandates for travelers through March
President Joe Biden will extend until mid-March a requirement that travelers wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and transit stations, a person familiar with the decision said Wednesday night.
The move to extend the mandate, which was set to expire Jan. 18, is part of a much broader winter strategy for combating COVID-19 that Biden is to announce Thursday, during a visit to the National Institutes of Health. The strategy will also include a new requirement that international travelers be tested for COVID-19 one day before departing for the United States, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The mask mandate extension was first reported by Reuters on Wednesday.
Biden will unveil his strategy as the new variant, known as omicron, is encircling the globe. On Wednesday, health officials in California announced the first confirmed case of the variant in the United States, in a patient in San Francisco who arrived Nov. 22 from South Africa.
Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues, and parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate as part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.
Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity.”
Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. If passed, it could take effect as early as February.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Is your mask making your glasses fog up in the winter cold? These tips can help you see clearly and learn what not to do (ew). And as the omicron variant spreads, it's worth taking a hard look at whether you're wearing a good mask and how to check its effectiveness.
"It's not a time to panic," Washington state health leaders are saying after the nation's first omicron case popped up in California. But it is time to double down on the tools we have, they say. Scientists and the CDC now say every adult should get a booster shot. This swift reversal comes as new COVID-19 cases in South Africa, where omicron was first detected, nearly doubled in a single day. Here's how to find vaccines and boosters in our state.
Washingtonians officially have a new way to prove vaccination. The state has launched its digital WA Verify tool for real after a halting rollout. Here's how it works and where to sign up.
The political fight over vaccine mandates is putting us on track for a federal government shutdown, with a key deadline tomorrow. Need to catch up? Here's a quick look at what's going on with the mandates and legal challenges.
Donald Trump, superspreader? The former president tested positive days before he shared the debate stage with then-presidential nominee Joe Biden, his former chief of staff says. Trump then had a series of close interactions with others, including Gold Star families, before the public knew of his COVID-19 case.
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