This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, December 20, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Vast numbers of people outside of urban areas and in the far reaches of Washington have been shut out of the digital world during the coronavirus pandemic, making it difficult or impossible to connect to schools, government institutions, businesses and other vital resources.

To try to solve the digital divide in Washington and elsewhere, Congress last month approved $65 billion for expanding high-speed internet, or broadband, in its massive infrastructure bill. Of that, $2 billion is reserved for tribal lands — where only 65% of residents had broadband access as of 2019, according to a U.S. Department of Interior report. Separately, Washington’s Broadband Office is about to start awarding out grants with money already allocated by the state Legislature.

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.

Navigating the pandemic

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Omicron, holidays send demand for COVID tests soaring across Washington state

When Donna Barker went through her coronavirus protocol last week for this year’s Christmas gathering, she realized she was missing something — enough rapid COVID-19 tests for all her guests. 

It didn’t matter as much last year, when she spent the day watching movies and walking through Discovery Park with her husband and college-age daughter, who had been home attending virtual classes for weeks.

This year, however, her daughter is flying home from California and Barker is planning to see several other close friends. Everyone has had a booster, she said Monday, but after hearing about the swift spread of the omicron variant, Barker wants each guest to take a rapid test 30 minutes before entering her home.

Barker started driving and calling around to pharmacies late last week, ultimately stopping in at five different pharmacies between Renton and Seattle — that doesn’t include the shopping she did online. The phone at one store was answered with, “Yes, we have rapid tests,” Barker said.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama, Amanda Zhou
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Vaccine mandates take center stage at U.S. Supreme Court

The Biden administration’s coronavirus protection requirements intended to persuade millions of health care and other workers to get vaccinated are taking center stage at the Supreme Court.

More than half the states and coalitions of business and religious groups are asking the justices for emergency action to block the administration’s nationwide vaccine-or-testing mandate for large businesses, which would cover about 80 million workers.

And the administration itself is asking the court to lift lower-court decisions that have blocked a vaccine mandate for health care workers in facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds. That implicates about 17 million workers.

The court has called for additional briefing in those cases by Dec. 30, which suggests rulings early in the new year.

Read the full story here.

—Robert Barnes, The Washington Post

Omicron sweeps across nation, now 73% of new US COVID cases

Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron’s share of infections in only one week.

In much of the country, it’s even higher. Omicron is responsible for an estimated 90% or more of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. The national rate suggests that more than 650,000 omicron infections occurred in the U.S. last week.

Since the end of June, the delta variant had been the main version causing U.S. infections. As recently as the end of November, more than 99.5% of coronaviruses were delta, according to CDC data.

Read the full story here.

—Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

EU approves 5th COVID-19 vaccine for bloc, one by Novavax

The European Union’s executive branch on Monday authorized a fifth COVID-19 vaccine for use in the 27-nation bloc, giving the green light to the two-dose vaccine made by U.S. biotech company Novavax.

The European Commission confirmed a recommendation from the bloc’s drug regulator to grant conditional marketing authorization for the vaccine for people ages 18 and over. The decision comes as many European nations are battling surges in infections and amid concerns about the spread of the new omicron variant.

Novavax says it’s testing how its shots will hold up against omicron, and like other manufacturers has begun formulating an updated version to better match that variant in case in case it’s eventually needed.

Read the story here.

—Mike Corder, The Associated Press
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Whiplash on vaccine mandate leaves employers ‘totally confused’

The marching orders from the Biden administration in November seemed clear: Large employers were to get their workers fully vaccinated by early next year, or make sure the workers were tested weekly. But a little more than a month later, the Labor Department’s vaccine rule has been swept into confusion and uncertainty by legal battles, shifting deadlines and rising COVID case counts that throw the very definition of fully vaccinated into question.

The spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant has seemingly bolstered the government’s argument that the virus remains a grave threat to workers. But the recent surge in cases has raised the issue of whether the government will ask employers to mandate booster shots, too. The country’s testing capacity has also been strained, adding to concerns companies will be unable to meet the testing requirements.

“My clients are totally confused as, quite frankly, am I,” said Erin McLaughlin, a labor and employment lawyer at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. “My sense is that there are a lot of employers scrambling to try and put their mandate programs in place.”

Read the story here.

—Charlie Savage, Emma Goldberg and Lauren Hirsch, The New York Times

State health officials confirm 1,462 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,462 new coronavirus cases and 21 new deaths on Monday.

The update brings the state's totals to 805,831 cases and 9,695 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. Sunday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on weekends.

In addition, 44,354 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 218 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 181,446 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,122 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,624,342 doses and 62.4 % 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 39,342 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.

—Amanda Zhou

Kraken cancel second straight practice after another positive coronavirus test

Another unidentified Kraken player tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, prompting the team to abruptly cancel practice while awaiting the result to be confirmed by a follow-up sample.

The announcement came on the same day forwards Yanni Gourde, Colin Blackwell and Riley Sheahan were released from COVID-19 protocol, though their availability for Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes remains in doubt given they haven’t skated for more than 10 days.

If the latest positive test is confirmed, the Kraken would have three players in COVID protocol, as defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Carson Soucy remained there from the weekend. 

Read the story here.

—Geoff Baker
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Schools use therapy-based programs for ‘overwhelmed’ kids

Like kids in so many cities and towns around the globe, the youngsters in Michigan’s Van Buren Intermediate School District have been through a lot these past few years. A relentless pandemic that continues to disrupt classrooms, sicken friends and loved ones, and has left some district families jobless and homeless. Three student suicide attempts since in-person school resumed full-time this fall, two student suicides last year. And now, a deadly shooting just two days earlier at a school a few hours away.

But with an infusion of federal COVID relief money and state funding this year plus a belief among local school officials that kids can’t succeed academically if they are struggling emotionally, every child in this district’s 11 schools is receiving extra help.

In a school year that was supposed to be a return to normal but has proven anything but, the district has launched an educational program based on a key component of modern psychology — cognitive behavior therapy. Principles of this method are embedded in the curriculum and are part of the district’s full embrace of social and emotional learning.

Students in every grade are taught how thoughts, feelings and behaviors are linked and how learning how to control and reframe thoughts can lead to more positive outcomes. The program includes more intensive lessons for kids struggling with anxiety, depression or trauma, along with sessions on suicide prevention. All district employees learn about the concepts.

Read the story here.

—Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth II to skip Christmas trip amid omicron surge

Queen Elizabeth II has decided not to spend Christmas at the royal Sandringham estate in eastern England amid concerns about the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The palace said Monday that the 95-year-old queen will spend the holidays at Windsor Castle, west of London, where she has stayed for most of the pandemic.

Other members of the royal family are expected to visit over the Christmas period, with precautions taken against spreading the virus.

Coronavirus infections are surging in Britain — up 60% in a week — as omicron replaced delta as the dominant variant, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said more new restrictions may have to be introduced to slow its spread. His health minister has refused to rule out imposing new measures before Christmas.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Across US, houses of worship struggle to rebuild attendance

When Westminster United Methodist Church in Houston resumed in-person services late last year, after a seven-month halt due to COVID-19, there were Sundays when only three worshippers showed up, according to the pastor, Meredith Mills.

Since then, attendance has inched back up, but it’s still only about half the pre-pandemic turnout of 160 or 170, Mills estimates.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “People just seem to want to leave home less these days.”

Polls by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows how dramatically church attendance fell during the worst of the pandemic last year, even as many say they are now returning to regular service attendance.

Among mainline Protestants, just 1% said in a May 2020 poll that they were attending in-person services at least once a week. In the new poll, 14% say they’re doing so now, compared to 16% who say they did in 2019.

Among evangelical Protestants, 37% now say they are attending services in person at least weekly, while 42% said they did that in 2019.

Among Catholics, 26% attend in person at least weekly now, compared with 30% in 2019. In the 2020 poll, conducted as many bishops temporarily waived the obligation for weekly Mass attendance, just 5% were worshipping in person at least weekly.

Read the story here.

—David Crary, The Associated Press
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Ohio hospitals take out newspaper ad begging people to get vaccinated: ‘We need you to care as much as we do’

Facing an increase in coronavirus cases as the omicron variant rapidly spreads through Ohio, leaders of six health-care facilities in the Cleveland area took out a full-page ad in the state’s largest newspaper pleading with residents to get vaccinated.

One word anchors the message: “Help.”

“We now have more COVID-19 patients in our hospitals than ever before,” the ad in Sunday’s issue of the Plain Dealer says. “And the overwhelming majority are unvaccinated. This is preventable.”

It ends with a desperate plea for the attention of a pandemic-fatigued public: “We need you to care as much as we do.”

Read the story here.

—Jessica Lipscomb, The Washington Post

Holiday season lights a bright spot amid pandemic resurgence

The holiday season is shining brightly during the pandemic as businesses pour money into extravagant light shows to spread cheer.

From Maine to California, more lights shows have launched during the pandemic, and they’re more elaborate than ever, with sparkly spectacles that the comedic character Clark Griswold from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” could only dream about.

“They’re exploding because people are looking for something to do. That has been a boom for this business,” said Wayne Wheeler, whose Wisconsin-based company, Reinders Inc., imports bulk lights and other gear used in the professionally produced shows.

Lighting displays are a time-honored tradition in the holidays, and people often drive around various neighborhoods to check out colorful lights. The commercial operations take it to another level, with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights, synchronized music, animated props and other glowing fixtures aimed at eliciting a “wow!”

No entity tracks such shows. But the pandemic provided a boost, and commercial light shows have been popping up in fairgrounds, farms, zoos and even parking lots, industry officials say.

Read the story here.

—David Sharp, The Associated Press

With Christmas in the balance, nations eye UK omicron surge

Britain’s main nurses’ union warned Monday that exhaustion and surging coronavirus cases among medical staff are pushing them to the breaking point, adding to pressure on the government for new restrictions to curb record numbers of infections driven by the omicron variant.

The warning throws into stark relief the unpalatable choice Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces: wreck holiday plans for millions for a second year running, or face a potential tidal wave of cases and disruption.

Many governments in Europe and the U.S. are confronting similar dilemmas over how hard to come down in the face of omicron, which scientists say spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, including delta, which itself led to surges in many parts of the world. Early evidence suggests omicron may also produce less serious illness — though experts caution it is too soon to say — and that it could better evade vaccine protection.

Even if it is milder, the new variant could still overwhelm health systems because of the sheer number of infections. Confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.K. have surged by 60% in a week as omicron overtook delta as the dominant variant.

Read the story here.

—Jill Lawless, The Associated Press
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Trump reveals he got COVID-19 booster shot; crowd boos him

Former President Donald Trump revealed he received a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, drawing boos from a crowd in Dallas.

Trump made the disclosure Sunday night during the final stop of “The History Tour,” a live interview show he has been doing with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“Both the president and I are vaxxed,” O’Reilly said at the American Airlines Center, drawing some jeers from the audience, according to video shared online by O’Reilly’s “No Spin News.”

“Did you get the booster?” he asked the former president. “Yes,” Trump responded. “I got it, too,” O’Reilly said, eliciting more hectoring.

“Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” Trump told the crowd, waving off their reaction with his hand.

While Trump has expressed opposition to vaccine mandates, he has long taken credit for the vaccines developed on his watch. At the same time, he has refused to urge his supporters to take them, even though Republicans remain far less likely than Democrats to be protected.

Read the story here.

—Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Crow, Warren, Booker test positive for breakthrough COVID-19

Two U.S. senators and a third lawmaker say they have tested positive for COVID-19 after having been vaccinated, as the nation deals with another surge in cases and the emergence of the omicron variant.

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow is the latest to announce he has tested positive. In a tweet on Sunday, the Colorado Democrat said he is fully vaccinated and got a booster shot and is experiencing only mild symptoms.

Also on Sunday, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey said they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Congress was on recess Monday for the holidays, but many lawmakers were in Washington last week meeting with colleagues and others on Capitol Hill.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Evictions on the rise months after federal moratorium ends

Soon after losing his trucking job amid the pandemic, Freddie Davis got another blow: His landlord in Miami was almost doubling the rent on his Miami apartment.

In September he was evicted — just over a month after a federal eviction moratorium ended. He’s now languishing in a hotel, aided by a nonprofit that helps homeless people.

The 51-year-old desperately wants to find a new apartment. But it’s proving impossible on his $1,000-a-month disability check.

The federal ban, along with a mix of state and federal moratoriums, is credited with keeping Davis and millions of others in their homes during the pandemic and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

But housing advocates say evictions are now on the rise in many parts of the country —- though numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels due to the infusion of federal rental assistance and other pandemic-related assistance like expanded child tax credit payments that are also set to end.

According to the latest data from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, eviction filings have been rising in most of the 31 cities and six states where it collects data. They increased 10.4% from the first half of August to the first half of September. In the first half of October, numbers were 38% above August levels and 25% higher than in September. Filings fell around 7% from the first half of October to November and now remain about 48% below pre-pandemic levels.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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The pandemic ended big gift exchanges. Here’s what we’re doing instead.

For many Americans, the casual holiday exchange is over: No more White Elephant gifts for extended family or Secret Santa at work.

The pandemic, which last year put an abrupt halt to communal gift exchanges of all kinds and has compelled many families to reconsider long-held traditions. Rising prices and supply chain disruptions that have led to sparse store shelves have only accelerated the shift.

More shoppers are buying secondhand goods, or simply giving cash or gift cards this year. Others are doing away with the fuss and waste of wrapping paper, opting instead for reusable gift bags or, in some cases, piling unadorned Amazon boxes under the tree. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“A lot of obligations – the office Christmas party and big family gift exchanges – have disappeared,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a consulting and research firm. “Instead we’re thinking practically by focusing on needs and trading up to higher-quality products.”

Read the story here.

—Abha Bhattarai, The Washington Post

U.S. drinking spikes as alcohol rules ease during pandemic

As heavy drinking increased in some households during the pandemic, dozens of state legislatures passed bills relaxing state alcohol laws, creating changes so vast that the movement is being compared to the waning days of Prohibition.

The new rules include cocktails-to-go laws and direct-to-consumer laws that allow grocery stores or liquor stores to deliver alcoholic beverages directly.

Critics say expansion, the most significant or major change to alcohol laws since the end of Prohibition, has come at the same time alcohol sales soared and drinking spiked. Studies have found higher rates of binge drinking and alcoholism, and some state coroners have reported a sharp increase in alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Kimberly Kindy' The Washington Post

FEMA mobile clinic to offer boosters and kids' shots in Federal Way and Auburn

To help meet the high demand for COVID-19 boosters and children’s vaccines in King County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sending its Mobile Community Vaccination Center to Federal Way and Auburn in December and January.

Public Health - Seattle & King County said the mobile clinic will be able to vaccinate 300 to 500 people per day.

Both the Federal Way and the Auburn clinics will provide COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to everyone ages five and older. This includes COVID-19 vaccine first dose, second dose, children’s vaccines, and boosters.

Appointments will be available at both sites from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week except for the following holiday-related closures on Dec. 24 and 25, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 and Jan. 4 and Jan. 17.

From Dec. 20 through Jan. 3, the mobile clinic will be at the Federal Way Performing Arts and Events Center, 31510 Pete von Reichbauer Way South, Federal Way, 98003.

From January 5 through 20, the FEMA mobile clinic will be at the Auburn GSA, 2701 C Street Southwest, Auburn, 98001.

If you have questions, or need assistance making an appointment, you can call the Washington State Department of Health COVI19 call center: 1-800-525-0127.

To make an appointment for the clinic when it's in Federal Way, see the links below:

Appointments for the Auburn clinic will be available soon and can be made through the public health agency's website here.

—Christine Clarridge
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About 30% of fully vaccinated Americans have gotten boosted; omicron could speed things up

Officials and public health experts are strengthening their calls for people to get booster shots as the omicron variant proliferates across the United States, where less than a third of the fully vaccinated population has received an additional coronavirus vaccine dose.

As of Sunday, more than 60.2 million booster doses had been administered across the country — that’s enough for about 30% of the fully vaccinated U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 54% of vaccinated people 65 years and older have gotten a booster, the CDC said.

In public remarks in recent days, federal and state officials have implored people to get boosted as soon as they can. But public health experts and behavioral scientists say uncertainty about who needs boosters and how they help may explain why uptake isn’t higher. Still, they say booster numbers can rise, especially as messaging strengthens around the those doses amid concern about the omicron variant.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Troops find religious exemption for vaccines unattainable

More than 12,000 military service members refusing the COVID-19 vaccine are seeking religious exemptions, and so far they are having zero success.

That total lack of approvals is creating new tensions within the military, even as the vast majority of the armed forces have gotten vaccinated.

The services, urgently trying to keep the coronavirus pandemic in check by getting troops vaccinated, are now besieged with exemption requests they are unlikely to approve. Meanwhile, troops claiming religious reasons for avoiding the shots are perplexed because exemptions are theoretically available, yet seem impossible to obtain.

Caught in the middle are chaplains, who must balance the desire to offer compassionate care and guidance to personnel with the need to explain a complicated process that may well be futile. They also must assess requests from those who may be using religion as an excuse to avoid a vaccine that, while credited with preventing needless deaths, has become politically charged.

Read the story here.

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Moderna's booster shot significantly increases protection against the omicron variant, the company reported today. Most of the world's vaccines are unlikely to prevent infection by the variant, although they still seem to protect against serious illness, research shows. Meanwhile, the two leading drugs used to fight COVID-19 are looking far less effective against omicron.

The U.S. could soon quadruple its record for daily coronavirus cases — and hospitalizations are rising, too, as omicron cases grow exponentially. "This is the moment" when all adults should have booster shots, public health experts say. But less than a third of fully vaccinated Americans have gotten boosters. Here's how to find one near you.

Should people consider changing their holiday travel plans? Six public health professionals share guidance, questions to ask and their own travel decisions. If you go to another country, know how to find a coronavirus test there so you can get back home.

—Kris Higginson