Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Dec. 23, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Less than 24 hours after Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus pandemic relief package that would deliver support to businesses, along with resources to vaccinate the country, President Donald Trump on Tuesday night asked Congress to amend the bill. Trump described the legislation as “a disgrace” and suggested he would not immediately sign off on aid for millions of Americans.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the opening of three additional kiosks offering self-administered, oral COVID-19 tests. Here’s how to register for an appointment.
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.
Retailers expand options for returns as they brace for avalanche of unwanted holiday gifts
Retailers and shipping companies have struggled to get shoppers’ holiday gifts delivered on time. Now, they’re gearing up for what’s expected to be a brutal season for unwanted goods headed back in their direction.
Following a coronavirus pandemic-fueled surge in online sales, up to $70.5 billion worth of online holiday purchases are expected to be returned, up from $42 billion last year, according to a forecast from commercial real estate brokerage CBRE.
Many retailers that encouraged people to start their holiday shopping early extended return deadlines this holiday season, which may help spread out the returns. Some merchants also are trying to make it less of a hassle to get rid of unwanted items and get a refund. Still, returns aren’t as seamless as clicking “buy” online.
It’s not just because people are buying more gifts online. It’s because there are more people shopping online, including some who typically prefer to shop in person and aren’t accustomed to buying online, said Steve Osburn, managing director of retail strategy at Accenture.
Shoppers also say they’re more likely to buy the same item in multiple sizes, then keep the one that fits.
Number of WA Notify users hits 1.5 million, including more than 25% of adults in Washington
In less than three weeks, more than 1.5 million people have started using Washington Exposure Notifications, the state's newly developed smartphone app that tracks potential exposures to the coronavirus, the state Department of Health (DOH) announced Wednesday evening.
Washington is now among the top five states for "use of exposure notification technology, when compared to our state's adult population," according to a DOH statement.
“By using (the app), Washington residents are stepping up to protect themselves and our communities from COVID-19,” Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of health for Washington's COVID-19 response, said in the Wednesday statement. “The more people who use exposure notification technology, the more effective it is.”
The app, also known as WA Notify, was released in 29 languages at the end of November, alerting users if they've spent time near another WA Notify user who has tested positive for coronavirus. It was developed by DOH and the University of Washington, and doesn’t collect or reveal any location or personal user data.
Kirkland’s EvergreenHealth, where outbreak was first identified in February, gets first vaccinations
It was 299 days ago that they found the virus at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland.
They followed a doctor’s hunch, ordered a test they thought was a long shot and in doing so identified the first outbreak in the nation of the mysterious disease that would become known as COVID-19, setting off a cascade of events none could have predicted.
“A whirlwind,” said Dr. Francis Riedo, medical director of infectious disease at EvergreenHealth, who helped identify the outbreak.
And on Wednesday, the hospital that became the early face of the fight against COVID-19 marked a milestone, beginning inoculations from a supply of 3,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine.
For 299 days, they’ve been playing “defense” against the disease, Riedo said during a news conference Wednesday. Now, it was time to go on the offensive.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said.
State health officials report 2,281 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,281 new coronavirus cases, which may include up to 150 duplicates, and 31 new deaths Wednesday evening.
The update brings the state's totals to 230,202 cases and 3,162 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. Tuesday.
In addition, 13,617 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 27 of which are new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 59,383 COVID-19 diagnoses and 974 deaths.
DOH noted data on hospitalizations were incomplete Wednesday, due to an "interruption in the data reporting process." Officials expect a full update Thursday.
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.
Russia cuts size of COVID-19 vaccine study, stops enrollment
MOSCOW — Russia’s Health Ministry agreed Wednesday to cut the size of a study of a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine and to stop the enrollment of volunteers.
The decision comes a week after developers said enrollment of study volunteers has slowed since Russia began giving out the Sputnik V vaccine while the late-stage study was still continuing. They also cited ethical concerns about giving a dummy shot to some of the volunteers. The study size was cut to about 31,000 from 40,000 participants.
Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Center, the state-run medical research institute that developed Sputnik V, said that many of those who received dummy shots had figured it out and gotten vaccinated.
If large numbers of volunteers in the placebo group drop out, it could affect the results, Svetlana Zavidova, executive director of Russia’s Association of Clinical Trials Organizations, said.
“They simply won’t be able to gather (the necessary) statistics,” she said.
Museum of the Bible considers suing D.C. mayor over virus shutdown, citing religious freedom
WASHINGTON — Officials at the Museum of the Bible said Wednesday they are considering suing D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D, over the city’s latest round of coronavirus restrictions, saying they prevent the museum’s employees from exercising their religious freedom and its visitors from possibly having a religious experience.
The plan to pursue legal action comes after an order by Bowser on Dec. 18 said museums and indoor dining in the District must close from Dec. 23 to Jan. 15, which includes the season of Advent and Christmas, a normally busy time for the museum. In a letter to Bowser, museum officials argue that the city is violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by not allowing the museum to exercise religion.
The museum will close Wednesday to comply with the mayor’s orders while it explores legal options. Officials for the museum, which has nearly 400,000 square feet of space spread over seven floors, are asking that Bowser’s previous restrictions be reinstated, where 250 socially distanced people could be on one floor at a time.
A spokesman for Bowser did not respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
“It’s our desire to be treated the same. We don’t want to create a havoc,” museum President Harry Hargrave said. “We want to stand up for our rights as well, and we feel like they’ve been violated.”
Gov. Inslee to extend Washington statewide eviction moratorium to March 31
With a week to go before the expiration of the statewide eviction moratorium on Dec. 31, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday he would once again extend the ban on evictions to March 31.
Inslee’s office did not offer more details on the moratorium extension, saying that more information would be available next week.
“COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact on Washingtonians over the last nine months,” Inslee said in a statement. “I know this moratorium has been critical for many families and individuals as they cope with the impacts of this virus. People need certainty about whether the moratorium will be extended, and it is important that I provide that certainty today while we work out the final details of the moratorium.”
Inslee’s announcement follows Congress’ passage of a $900 billion stimulus deal that would extend the national eviction moratorium to Jan. 31.
‘Historic milestone’: 1 million Americans have received a COVID vaccine, CDC says
More than 1 million Americans have received their first doses of a COVID-19 shot across the country since federal officials authorized two vaccines for emergency use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
CDC Director Robert Redfield called it an “early but important milestone” in a media statement.
“With cases of COVID-19 continuing to surge nationwide, this achievement comes at a critical time and will help to protect those on the front lines – our health care providers treating COVID-19 patients – as well as our most vulnerable: elder individuals living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” Redfield said in the statement obtained by McClatchy News.
“While we celebrate this historic milestone, we also acknowledge the challenging path ahead. There is currently a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., but supply will increase in the weeks and months to come. The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as large enough quantities are available,” he added.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Shots are being allocated based on a state’s population size, not the number of people in high-risk groups.
Federal officials say it’s up to states to determine vaccine priority.
A CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Tuesday updated its interim recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine allocation.
Studies find having COVID-19 may protect against reinfection
Two new studies give encouraging evidence that having COVID-19 may offer some protection against future infections. Researchers found that people who made antibodies to the coronavirus were much less likely to test positive again for up to six months and maybe longer.
The results bode well for vaccines, which provoke the immune system to make antibodies — substances that attach to a virus and help it be eliminated.
Researchers found that people with antibodies from natural infections were “at much lower risk … on the order of the same kind of protection you’d get from an effective vaccine,” of getting the virus again, said Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
“It’s very, very rare” to get reinfected, he said.
The institute’s study had nothing to do with cancer — many federal researchers have shifted to coronavirus work because of the pandemic.
Company loans ultra-cold freezers to Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic for COVID vaccine
The Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic received an unexpected but much-needed surprise this Christmas season in the form of ultra-cold storage freezers for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December. Scientists estimate that the vaccine, which requires two doses, is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 a week after the second dose. Doses must be stored at temperatures of minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit.
The sudden, urgent need for ultra-cold storage resulted in a shortage of equipment nationwide. Lori Kelley, the senior director of quality at the Farm Workers Clinic, said she didn’t expect that staff would be able to get an ultra-cold freezer until next spring.
But employees at Yakima’s Agro Fresh Solutions Inc., a company that specializes in fresh produce storage, noticed they weren’t using three of their ultra-cold storage units. They reached out to see if the clinic might want them.
That helping hand was a blessing, especially since the clinic serves more than 181,000 patients who otherwise wouldn’t have access to primary care, Kelley said.
“We are the best place to ensure that the most vulnerable in our community have access to this life-saving vaccine,” Kelley said. “This will enable us to more quickly and efficiently serve our patients and our community.”
The freezers are going to clinic locations in Yakima, Toppenish and Grandview, and Yakima’s clinic received its freezer this week.
Read the full story here.
Trump’s last-minute antics throw pandemic relief effort into chaos
President Donald Trump’s last-minute move to reject a sweeping coronavirus relief package is escalating confusion and panic among Republicans whlie setting the stage for an uncomfortable confrontation Thursday that could force GOP lawmakers to object to their own president’s demand for larger stimulus checks for Americans.
The president has yet to explicitly say that he will veto the virus aid measure, which was paired with an annual spending bill that keeps federal government operations running until next fall. But the continued standoff Wednesday threw into doubt how quickly help would get in the hands of millions of Americans struggling under the economic weight of the pandemic, including the direct payments that had become one of the most visible provisions of the relief package.
The chaos is unfolding against the backdrop of another potential shutdown of the government, with current funding set to lapse starting Tuesday. It also handed Democrats in two vital Senate races in Georgia a fresh political weapon against their GOP opponents, with Trump swiftly undercutting Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) as they took a victory lap over securing $600 stimulus checks that Trump has now attacked as too small.
Read the full story here.
Everett Congressman Rick Larsen tests positive for coronavirus
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen announced Wednesday that he's tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but is not experiencing any symptoms.
Larsen, a Democrat from Everett, said he is quarantining "in accordance with CDC guidelines," and is prepared to vote by proxy if the House schedules votes in the coming days.
Larsen, 55, was first elected in 2000 and was reelected to his 11th term in November with 63% of the vote. His Second Congressional District covers Island and San Juan counties and parts of Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Larsen is the second member of Congress from Washington to test positive for the virus, after Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, tested positive in November.
At least 45 members of Congress have tested positive for the virus and dozens of others have been exposed or tested positive for antibodies, according to a list compiled by GovTrack.
Britain finds 2 cases of coronavirus variant linked to South Africa
Britain has found two cases of a coronavirus variant linked to South Africa, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday, both of which are tied to contact with recent arrivals from that country.
Hancock announced new restrictions on visitors from South Africa and called on anyone who has recently been to that country or been in contact with a recent arrival from there to self-isolate immediately, describing the measures as temporary while officials seek to better understand the variant.
“This virus is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and appears to have mutated further than the new variant that’s been discovered in the U.K.,” he said at a news conference.
South African officials announced last week that their scientists had detected a new variant that appeared to be fueling a rapid rise in infections there.
Read the full story here.
Millions traveling for holidays despite public health officials' warnings
TAMPA, Fla. — Some are elderly and figure they don’t have many Christmases left. Others are trying to keep long-distance romance alive. Some just yearn for the human connection that’s been absent for the past nine months.
Millions of Americans are traveling ahead of Christmas and New Year’s, despite pleas from public health experts that they stay home to avoid fueling the raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 320,000 nationwide.
Many people at airports this week thought long and hard about whether to go somewhere and found a way to rationalize it.
“My mom’s worth it. She needs my help,” said 34-year-old Jennifer Brownlee, a fisherman from Bayou La Batre, Alabama, who was waiting at the Tampa airport to fly to Oregon to see her mother, who just lost a leg. “I know that God’s got me. He’s not going to let me get sick.”
Brownlee said that she would wear a mask on the plane “out of respect” for other passengers but that her immune system and Jesus Christ would protect her.
More than 5 million people passed through the nation’s airport security checkpoints between Friday and Tuesday, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
That is down around 60% from the same time last year. But it amounts to around a million passengers per day, or about what the U.S. saw in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, when some Americans likewise disregarded warnings and ended up contributing to the surge in the U.S.
Read the full story here.
Fauci’s Christmas Eve: turning 80 and fighting the pandemic
WASHINGTON — Anthony Fauci celebrates a big birthday on Christmas Eve. He’ll be 80. He says he has worked every day since January, often late into the night, laser-focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. He enters his ninth decade with remarkable vigor, and attributes his youthful appearance to genetics. His father lived to 97 and never looked his age.
To deal with the demands of his job, Fauci says he relies on the muscle memory from his days as a young doctor working crazy shifts in a big New York City hospital, often all through the night, triaging patients with life-threatening injuries.
“There is no option to get tired. There is no option to sit down and say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had enough,’ ” he said. When fatigued, he recalled, he would tell himself: “I’m gonna dig deep and just suck it up.”
Which is kind of what he’s been advising the whole country.
This hideous pandemic will not last forever, but it won’t end soon enough, sadly, for thousands of families who will suffer through the dark days of winter as this cold-weather surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths hits its peak. Coronavirus vaccines, a marvel of human ingenuity, will not begin to quash the pandemic for many weeks or months.
So: Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Avoid crowds. Outside is better than inside. Fauci delivers that mantra every time he gives an interview, which is many times a day.
Read the full story here.
Long-term care residents in Washington receiving vaccine
Wearing a red jacket and a string of blinking Christmas lights as a necklace, 92-year-old LaVaughn “Lovie” Therriault counted “one, two” but didn’t make it to three before a nurse injected her with the coronavirus vaccine.
“By Jove, you did do it,” she marveled to nurse Flor Craig as Craig stuck a bandage on her arm. Then she pumped her fist into the air.
On Monday, Therriault was among the first long-term care residents in Washington to receive the vaccine that officials hope to have soon in all of the state’s 4,000 nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, adult family homes and other care sites.
Therriault lives at the Parkshore retirement community in Seattle’s Madison Park, where residents and staff were given the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine delivered by Consonus Pharmacy. Parkshore offers several levels of care at its site, but only residents who live in the assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care floors were eligible to receive the dose. The facility provided The Seattle Times with video of Therriault receiving the vaccine because of ongoing COVID-19 precautions.
The vaccine arrival felt like “the beginning of the end” of the pandemic for the community, Parkshore Executive Director Annika DiNovi said Tuesday in an interview.
“It was a historic day,” she said. “We are very excited for this to allow our residents to get back to a sense of normalcy.”
Read the full story here.
Thailand grapples with virus after outbreak
BANGKOK — After managing against the odds to keep the coronavirus largely in check for most of the year, Thailand has suddenly found itself challenged by an expanding outbreak among migrant workers on the doorstep of Bangkok, the capital.
The surge of cases in Samut Sakhon province threatens to undo months of efforts to contain the virus and hasten recovery of Thailand’s ailing economy.
Seeking to slow the spread of the virus by isolating infected patients, the army and navy have been ordered by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to help set up a 1,000-bed field hospital in the province, Defense Ministry spokesperson Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanit said Wednesday. It would be located as close as possible to where the most patients already are in order to reduce the risks of transmission by transporting them elsewhere, he said.
Read the full story here.
Ohio judge who failed to adopt mask rules removed from cases
An Ohio judge who failed to adopt written rules for mask wearing and other coronavirus prevention measures has been removed from two cases by the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Although Muskingum County Court Judge Mark Fleegle announced some preventative steps after a complaint, his lack of written procedures makes it difficult for jurors and others to know what’s expected of them, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said in an order earlier this month.
“Even if Judge Fleegle is convinced that he can preside over a safe jury trial without any sort of written protocol,” O’Connor wrote, he should recognize, “that the health concerns of attorneys and parties should be an important factor in deciding whether to proceed with jury trials during this phase of the pandemic.
Harry Reinhart, the defense attorney who filed the complaint, raised concerns about the lack of a courtroom mask mandate, limited social distancing, no discernable air circulation and no barriers between participants. During a recent trial, “a significant number of jurors (three or four) never wore masks,” Reinhart said in his complaint.
Reinhart had two cases scheduled for trial before Fleegle: a defendant accused of rape and another accused of illegally firing a weapon. O’Connor selected an outside judge to oversee the cases.
Reinhart said that at age 69, he’s at risk for serious complications if infected with the virus.
Read the full story here.
Vaccines Arm Hotels, Airlines With New Power to Jack Up Prices
The arrival of a coronavirus vaccine has the U.S. travel industry preparing for a rebound in demand following a historically terrible year. After months of deep discounts — with hotels offering lavish perks and airlines dangling fares such as $21 from New York to Florida — prices are set to make up at least part of the ground they lost.
Trip providers have slashed capacity, so any gains in bookings will tend to boost rates. And as vaccines take hold, they’re poised to unleash a torrent of pent-up vacation demand as people emerge from months of being cooped up at home. That’s leading to optimism within the industry for an upswing in the spring and summer, even as rates remain depressed and a recovery in business travel is a long way off.
“No one’s getting ready to pop open a bottle of champagne yet,” travel consultant Henry Harteveldt said of airlines and hotel groups he has polled. “But there is hope right now that summer 2021 will come in and be certainly not only much stronger than this year, but at or above 50% of where we were in 2019.”
Read the full story here.
Few holiday seasons will look normal this year amid virus' impacts.
Montserrat Parello lost her husband eight years ago, and Christmas gatherings with children and grandchildren had helped her deal with her loneliness. But this year, the 83-year-old will be alone for the holiday at her home in Barcelona, due to the risk of infection from the coronavirus.
“In these days of pandemic, I feel loneliness and anger,” Parello said, expressing fears that “I will leave this life devoid of affection, of warmth.”
All most people wanted for Christmas after this year of pandemic uncertainty and chaos was some cheer and togetherness. Instead many are heading into a season of isolation, grieving lost loved ones, worried about their jobs or confronting the fear of a new potentially more contagious virus variant.
Residents of London and surrounding areas can’t see people outside their households. Peruvians won’t be allowed to drive their cars over Christmas and New Year to discourage visits even with nearby family and friends. South Africans won’t be able to go to the beach on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.
The patchwork of restrictions being imposed by local and national governments across the world varies widely — but few holiday seasons will look normal this year.
People the world over are facing wrenching decisions — to see isolated elderly relatives despite the risk or to miss one of the potentially few Christmases left in the hopes of spending the holiday together next year.
There are no nationwide travel restrictions in the United States, but health officials have urged people to stay home and limit gatherings. Some states require travelers to get tested or quarantine.
Read the full story here.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The COVID vaccination effort got a giant boost this morning with a U.S. deal to acquire 100 million more doses from Pfizer. This creates "enough supply to vaccinate every American who wants it by June 2021,” according to the federal government.
"A historic day": With a shot in the arm and the pump of a fist, vaccines have begun at long-term care facilities in Washington. At a Seattle retirement community, this felt like the beginning of the pandemic's end.
After a single person went to work sick in Oregon, seven people died and 300 wound up in quarantine. Then a state senator from the county where that happened ripped off his mask in the Legislature and tore into leaders over coronavirus precautions.
White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx is retiring. Her announcement came days after a report that she traveled over Thanksgiving weekend even as the CDC was warning Americans against holiday travel.
The U.S. population has grown by the smallest rate in at least 120 years. Demographers say the July-to-July numbers provide a glimpse of the pandemic's toll.
A Georgia college student slipped out of mandatory quarantine in the Cayman Islands to watch her boyfriend compete in a Jet Ski competition. Now she's been sentenced to prison.
In France, nursing-home residents can leave for the holidays — but they're locked in agonizing dilemmas. In Peru, you can’t drive your car on Christmas. And in Italy, the mind-boggling, color-coded virus rules change almost every day for the next two weeks. Here's how countries around the world are navigating this challenging season.
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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