Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, Dec. 22, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
After months of negotiations, Congress on Monday night passed a $900 billion coronavirus pandemic relief package that would deliver support to businesses and resources to vaccinate the country. The bill will go to President Donald Trump for his signature, which is expected this week.
In Washington, 130,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine are expected to arrive this week, along with an additional 45,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. But the surge in cases continues, and Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday announced new travel restrictions for people arriving from the United Kingdom, South Africa and other nations where a new variant of the virus has been reported.
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.
Millions of low-income Americans will receive internet access rebates under stimulus plan
WASHINGTON — A massive coronavirus aid package approved by Congress late Monday sets aside $7 billion to help Americans get high-speed internet connections and pay their monthly bills, marking one of the most substantial one-time broadband investments in U.S. history.
Nearly half the money is slated to fund a new monthly benefit for low-income families, aiming to ensure that those who have lost their jobs can stay online at a time when the pandemic has forced millions of people to work, learn and communicate on their devices from home.
Lawmakers also set aside money to expand internet service to the country’s hardest-to-reach areas, upgrade infrastructure that may suffer from security flaws and map the state of the country’s connectivity so the U.S. government can better spend future funds.
Telecom giants, consumer advocates and Washington policymakers on Tuesday cheered the broadband investment, which is slightly smaller than the 2009 relief law that Congress adopted in the shadow of the Great Recession. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the chamber’s tech-focused commerce committee, said the bill would offer “a little bit of help” after the coronavirus illustrated the costs of inadequate connectivity.
But she still called on Congress to increase spending in future coronavirus relief efforts, pointing to lingering gaps — particularly in education because Congress did not authorize new funding to help students get online more easily.
California health system buckling under COVID-19 pandemic
LOS ANGELES — California’s health care system is buckling under the strain of the nation’s largest coronavirus outbreak and may fracture in weeks if people ignore holiday social distancing, health officials warned as the number of people needing beds and specialized care soared to previously unimagined levels.
Top executives from the state’s largest hospital systems —Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health and Sutter Health, which together cover 15 million Californians — said Tuesday that increasingly exhausted staff, many pressed into service outside their normal duties, are now attending to COVID-19 patients stacked up in hallways and conference rooms.
The CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles, Dr. Elaine Batchlor, separately said patients there have spilled over into the gift shop and five tents outside the emergency department.
“We don’t have space for anybody. We’ve been holding patients for days because we can’t get them transferred, can’t get beds for them,” said Dr. Alexis Lenz, an emergency room physician at El Centro Regional Medical Center in Imperial County, in the southeast corner of the state. The facility has erected a 50-bed tent in its parking lot and was converting three operating rooms to virus care.
Trump calls on Congress to approve $2,000 stimulus checks, hinting that he might not sign relief bill
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Tuesday night asked Congress to amend the nearly $900 billion stimulus and spending bill passed by the Senate just one day before, describing the legislation as “a disgrace” and suggesting he would not immediately sign off on aid for millions of Americans.
In a video posted to Twitter, Trump called on Congress to increase the “ridiculously low” $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 and outlined a list of provisions in the final legislation that he described as “wasteful spending and much more.” He did not mention that the $600 stimulus check idea came from his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.
“I am also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a covid relief package, and maybe that administration will be me,” Trump said.
The video landed like a sonic boom in Washington. His own aides were stunned. Congressional aides were stunned. Stock market futures quickly slumped on the prospect that the economic aid could be in doubt.
South Korea’s cases, COVID-19 deaths spike again
South Korea has added another new 1,092 infections of the coronavirus in a resurgence that is erasing hard-won epidemiological gains and eroding public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the outbreak.
The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 52,550, with more than 13,130 cases added in the last two weeks alone.
Seventeen COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 739 as concerns grow about a shortage in intensive care beds. At least 284 of the country’s 15,085 active patients were in serious or critical condition.
South Korea had been seen as a success story against COVID-19 after health workers managed to contain a major outbreak in its southeastern region in spring, when the majority of infections were linked to a single church congregation in Daegu city.
But critics say the country gambled on its own success by easing social distancing restrictions to help the economy.
US close on deal with Pfizer for millions more vaccine doses
WASHINGTON — The U.S. government is close to a deal to acquire tens of millions of additional doses of Pfizer’s vaccine in exchange for helping the pharmaceutical giant gain better access to manufacturing supplies.
A person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the deal is under discussion and could be finalized shortly. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to describe ongoing deliberations.
Pfizer’s vaccine was the first to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration and initial shipments went to states last week. It has now been joined by a vaccine from Moderna, which was developed in closer cooperation with scientists from the National Institutes of Health.
Moderna’s vaccine comes under the umbrella of the government’s own effort, which is called Operation Warp Speed. That public-private endeavor was designed to have millions of vaccine doses ready and available to ship once a shot received FDA approval.
But another deal with Pfizer would move the nation closer to the goal of vaccinating all Americans.
State reports 1,508 new coronavirus cases and 25 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,508 new coronavirus cases and 25 new deaths as of Monday.
The update brings the state's totals to 227,887 cases and 3,131 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. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.
In addition, 13,590 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 75 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 58,968 COVID-19 diagnoses and 964 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 also noted that negative test results from Nov. 21 through today are incomplete, and "testing numbers should be interpreted with caution."
Seattle to extend COVID-19 child care assistance through March for families in city-subsidized programs
From January through March, the city will cover 50% of copay costs for families in its Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and 50% of copay costs for families with scholarships at Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) child care sites.
Copays are the payments that families owe after their subsidies or scholarships have been applied. Seattle has been covering 100% of co-pay costs for the programs in November and December.
CCAP provides vouchers to families with incomes between 200% and 350% of the federal poverty level. The vouchers can be used at child care centers across Seattle. Normally, the vouchers cover 25% to 70% of families’ costs. For a family of four, 350% of the federal poverty level is $90,000.
SPR child care scholarships are available to families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level and normally cover up to 90% of families’ costs, on a sliding scale.
Washington state's Working Connections Child Care program covers families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level.
About 520 children currently receive child care subsidies through CCAP vouchers and SPR scholarships. Both programs have space available for more children, and new families will be eligible for copay relief. To sign up for CCAP, visit this website or call 206-386-1050. To sign up for SPR child care, visit this website.
Pulse oximeter devices have higher error rate in patients with dark skin
For people with dark skin, the pulse oximeter — one of the most commonly used tools in medicine, and relied on in the pandemic — can provide misleading results in more than one in 10 people. This new finding is alarming the medical community.
The findings, which were published last week as a letter to the editor of a top medical journal, sent ripples of dismay through the medical community, which relies heavily on the devices to decide whether to admit patients or send them home.
“I think most of the medical community has been operating on the assumption that pulse oximetry is quite accurate,” said Dr. Michael W. Sjoding, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and lead author of the new report, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. “I’m a trained pulmonologist and critical care physician, and I had no understanding that the pulse ox was potentially inaccurate — and that I was missing hypoxemia in a certain minority of patients.”
France to allow limited reopening of border; thousands of trucks remain stranded
The ports on both sides of the English Channel, one of the most crucial trade routes in Europe between Britain and France, remained snarled with thousands of idled cargo trucks on Tuesday, over fears of a fast-spreading coronavirus mutation spreading “out of control” in England.
More than 50 countries have erected travel bans with Britain, disrupting passenger air service between the United Kingdom and the rest of the world.
France on Tuesday announced a limited reopening, starting on Wednesday, for traffic coming via ferry, train and tunnel, but only for E.U. citizens and Britons living in the E.U. — and only if they provide a negative coronavirus test from the previous 72 hours.
Three more COVID-19 test kiosks opening in Seattle
Three additional kiosks offering self-administered, oral COVID-19 tests for free are opening in Seattle this week, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Tuesday.
The kiosks will be operated by the COVID-19 testing company Curative, in partnership with the city, Durkan’s office said. Curative opened three kiosks in Seattle earlier this month.
Individuals receive swab packages from workers inside the kiosks, swab their own mouths and return their swabs in plastic bags. Results are delivered electronically within 48 hours.
The new kiosks are opening at Seattle Center in Lower Queen Anne, the Mount Baker light-rail station in Rainier Valley and Lower Woodland Park near Green Lake. The city is instructing individuals to register online before visiting. The kiosks will be open Mondays to Saturdays.
The Curative kiosks that opened earlier this month are at Northgate Community Center in Northgate and Garfield Community Center in the Central District.
The kiosks are the latest addition to Seattle's testing program. The city conducts nasal swab tests for COVID-19 at drive-thru and walk-up sites. Individuals can register online for those sites, as well.
Cayman Islands court reduces American teen’s sentence for breaking coronavirus rules
The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal on Tuesday reduced the sentence of a Georgia teen who pleaded guilty to flouting coronavirus quarantine rules from four months in prison to two months, her attorneys said.
Skylar Mack’s family has called for her release, saying the sentencing, the most severe related to the pandemic so far implemented in the British overseas territory, is unduly harsh punishment for the 18-year-old student.
“We’re not asking for her to get an exception,” Jeanne Mack, Skylar’s grandmother, told NBC on Monday. “We’re asking for her to not be the exception.”
Her attorneys cheered the court’s Tuesday decision as bittersweet, saying they had hoped for an earlier release.
Read the full story here.
California desperately searches for more nurses and doctors
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., Sara Houze has been on the road — going from one hospital to another to care for COVID-19 patients on the brink of death.
A cardiac intensive care nurse from Washington, D.C., with expertise in heart rhythm, airway and pain management, her skills are in great demand as infections and hospitalizations skyrocket nationwide. Houze is among more than 500 nurses, doctors and other medical staff California has deployed to hospitals that are running out of capacity to treat the most severe COVID-19 cases.
Her six-week assignment started Monday in San Bernardino, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, and she anticipates working 14-hour shifts with a higher-than-usual caseload. San Bernardino County has 1,545 people in hospitals and more than 125 are in makeshift “surge” beds, which are being used because regular hospital space isn’t available.
“I expect patients to die. That’s been my experience: They die, I put them in body bags, the room gets cleaned and then another patient comes,” Houze said.
Read the full story here.
WH virus coordinator Deborah Birx says she will retire
WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, said Tuesday she plans to retire, but is willing to first help President-elect Joe Biden’s team with its coronavirus response as needed.
Birx, in an interview with the news site Newsy, did not give a specific timetable on her plans.
“I will be helpful in any role that people think I can be helpful in, and then I will retire,” Birx told the news outlet.
Birx and White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Her comments came just days after The Associated Press reported that she traveled out of state for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was urging Americans to forgo holiday travel.
Read the full story here.
US population growth smallest in at least 120 years
The U.S. population grew by the smallest rate in at least 120 years from 2019 to 2020, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau — a trend that demographers say provides a glimpse of the coronavirus pandemic’s toll.
Population growth in the U.S. already was stagnant over the past several years due to immigration restrictions and a dip in fertility, but coronavirus-related deaths exacerbated that lethargic-growth trend, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brooking Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.
“I think it’s a first glimpse of where we may be heading as far as low population growth,” Frey said. “It’s telling you that this is having an impact on population.”
Read the full story here.
Prince William and Kate accused of breaking coronavirus rules again
LONDON — When it comes to England’s latest coronavirus restrictions, it appears that even senior members of Britain’s royal family can become confused over the ever-changing rules imposed by the government as the coronavirus crisis rages on.
“Royals’ Xmas Blunderland” read the front page of the Daily Mail on Tuesday, as the newspaper accused Prince William and Kate, more formally known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, of flouting the government’s imposed “rule of six” by walking as part of a group of nine people at a festive-themed woodland trail over the weekend.
The Prince, who is second in line to the British throne, was photographed walking with his wife and their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, at the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk. The family were also joined by Prince Edward, his wife, Sophie, and their two children.
Norfolk, a county on the east coast of England, is under Tier 2 rules, meaning that only groups of up to six can meet outdoors if they are not from the same household, under the high-alert regulations in place to slow the spread of the virus.
“This limit of 6 includes children of any age,” reads guidance on the official government website.
Can employers make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?
Can employers make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?
Yes, with some exceptions.
Experts say employers can require employees to take safety measures, including vaccination. That doesn’t necessarily mean you would get fired if you refuse, but you might need to sign a waiver or agree to work under specific conditions to limit any risk you might pose to yourself or others.
“Employers generally have wide scope” to make rules for the workplace, said Dorit Reiss, a law professor who specializes in vaccine policies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. “It’s their business.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has allowed companies to mandate the flu and other vaccines, and has also indicated they can require COVID-19 vaccines.
Read the full story here.
U.S. student, 18, jailed for quarantine violation in Cayman Islands
The family of an 18-year-old college student who broke the Cayman Islands’ coronavirus laws on a trip last month has pleaded for her release from prison ahead of a hearing on Tuesday before a panel of judges who will decide whether her appeal can proceed.
“She cries, she wants to come home,” the student’s grandmother, Jeanne Mack, said on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday. “She knows she made a mistake. She owns up to that, but she’s pretty hysterical right now.”
Skylar Mack and her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, were sentenced to four months in prison after violating the Cayman Island’s required 14-day quarantine period for visitors.
Read full story here.
Oregon allows cocktails to-go at last, sending lifeline to struggling restaurants and bars
In the early weeks of the pandemic, Oregon restaurants and bars watched as dozens of states across America rewrote policy or changed laws to allow the sale of cocktails to-go.
Yet even as state-mandated restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 prompted massive layoffs in the food industry, a job sector that employs nearly 10% of the workforce, the state declined to take up the issue.
That changed Monday in Salem. During a special session, the Oregon Senate passed a bill allowing restaurants and bars to sell takeout cocktails and placed a cap on the fees that could be charged by third-party delivery apps, part of a broader round of relief measures designed to help businesses weather what could be a long winter.
Read the full story here.
Christmas in the ICU: Decorations, lights and many tears
A Christmas tree stands outside the intensive care room where a man stricken by COVID-19 lies unconscious, a machine breathing for him. A few feet away, a plastic snowman adorns the door of another patient whose face is barely visible behind ventilator tubes.
The decorations are “a way to let family members know that we’re trying, and we love these patients and we want them to feel like it’s Christmas as much as we can,” nurse Carla Fallin said, standing just outside one of the rooms at East Alabama Medical Center.
While parades, shopping and Christmas tree lightings go on around them, nurses and doctors who’ve spent agonizing months caring for the ill are doing what they can to get through the holiday season, which many fear will only spread the disease and add to the U.S. death toll that has surpassed 300,000.
Read the full story here.
Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up
• Hot chocolate bombs are blowing up social media. Here's what they are and how to make them.
• Then use up the rest of the candy canes with teen chef Sadie's recipe for peppermint meringue cookies.
• Moira’s Book Club has chosen its next two novels. Happy reading!
Inslee's travel restrictions
Gov. Inslee orders travel quarantine as concerns grow over virus mutation
Travelers arriving from the U.K., South Africa and other nations must quarantine to avoid spreading a new variant of the coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee said yesterday amid early indications that the mutation spreads faster than previous strains. How worried should we be? Here's what is known about the mutation so far. Meanwhile, Britain is all but cut off as its neighbors try to stop the mutation, raising fears of food shortages if the limits aren’t lifted soon.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Americans could start getting COVID-19 relief checks next week. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the sweeping $900 billion package that Congress passed last night. Here's what's in it for individuals and businesses. One highlight: the nasty shock of "surprise medical bills" should happen far less often.
• The second coronavirus vaccine is flowing in Washington state. Moderna's shots arrived yesterday as hospitals became dangerously full, and one local medical system endured outrage from critical-care and ICU workers who landed in line behind lower-risk personnel.
• California, averaging almost 44,000 new cases a day, is putting hospital beds in parking lots and an NBA arena. The state is so desperate for nurses that it's reaching out to Australia and Taiwan. One traveling nurse describes the exhausting cycle in California's hospitals: "They die, I put them in body bags, the room gets cleaned and then another patient comes."
• If you glossed right over that California number, you're not alone. In the face of one of the biggest mass casualty events in our history, Americans are growing increasingly numb. The reason, one psychologist explains: "Statistics are human beings with tears dried off. And that’s dangerous because we need tears to motivate us."
• Those tears are real for a college student who thought she'd recovered from a mild case of COVID-19, until her heart failed. As Maddie Neville wonders if she'll ever feel strong again, she's telling her story as a "reality check."
• Public-school enrollment is falling as the virus disrupts education. This could have dire consequences for school budgets. But even more alarming, educators say, is that some of the students who left may not be in school at all.
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.
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