Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Dec. 24, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

An uptick in seriously ill COVID-19 patients coupled with a winter surge in cases is leaving some hospitals across the U.S. unable to treat emergency room patients, putting their lives at risk. President Joe Biden announced plans to send medical teams to hospitals in the Midwest and Northeast that are struggling to keep up.

As U.S. officials warn about an increase in cases during the holidays, New York officials are planning to hold New Year’s celebrations in Times Square under new COVID-19 restrictions. While around 58,000 people typically gather to usher in the new year, the space this year will be limited to about 15,000.

Meanwhile, officials in Greece opted to cancel all public Christmas events and reinstate mask mandates for outdoor and indoor public spaces. Intensive care units in the country are at over 90% capacity, according to officials.

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

More

Summer fun in vaccinated New Zealand

New Zealanders celebrated a warm Christmas day with few restrictions, enjoying local traditions such as beach barbecues, in one of the few nations relatively untouched by the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19.

About 95% of adults have taken at least one dose of vaccine, and the Associated Press reports the few omicron cases were contained at the border. Only 50 people have died out of 5.5 million there from the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

Advertising

VP Harris tests negative, after feared COVID exposure

Vice President Kamala Harris tested negative for COVID-19 on Friday, two days after prolonged exposure to a staff member who later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Harris' office said she took a PCR test Friday, and that her husband, Doug Emhoff, took a rapid antigen test, and both were negative. The vice president is in her home state of California.

Read the full story here.

US Navy warship sidelined with COVID-19 outbreak

A U.S. Navy warship has paused its deployment to South America because of a coronavirus outbreak, the Navy said Friday.

The USS Milwaukee, a litorral combat ship, is staying in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, where it had stopped for a scheduled port visit, The Associated Press reports. It began its deployment from Mayport, Fla., on December 15 and was heading into the U.S. Southern Command region.

The Navy said in a statement that the ship’s crew is “100% immunized” and that all of those who tested positive for COVID-19 have been isolated on the ship away from other crew members. The number of crew testing positive was not disclosed.

The Navy said that “a portion” of those infected are having mild symptoms, and that the specific variant is not yet known. COVID-19 cases have surged across the country as a result of the highly contageous omicron variant.

Read the complete story here.

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

EXPLAINER: How will Biden’s COVID-19 test giveaway work?

President Joe Biden says the federal government will buy half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits and distribute them free of charge to people to use at home. But despite the high public demand for tests, it will still be several more weeks before these kits are available to be shipped, The Associated Press reports. The administration is still working on details for how the program will work.

DOES THE GOVERNMENT HAVE THE TESTS?

Not yet. As of this week, the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services were “executing on what’s called an ‘accelerated emergency contract,'” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said. A contract is expected to be signed soon.

WHEN WILL THE TEST KITS BE DELIVERED?

The first delivery is expected in early January. All 500 million kits will not be delivered at the same time but instead will arrive in batches.

MY DRUGSTORE DOESN’T HAVE ANY TESTS. HOW CAN I GET A FREE KIT FROM THE GOVERNMENT?

You’ll go to a new government website to request a kit, but the site won’t be functional until after the first batch of test kits have been delivered, Psaki said. She said the process was being handled that way to avoid creating more confusion for the public. But the idea is that anyone who wants a test kit would log onto this website to request one.

Read the full story here.

—Darlene Superville, The Associated Press
Advertising

Biden’s 1st White House Christmas made somber by pandemic

It’s been a more somber holiday scene at the White House this year under COVID-19’s shadow, The Associated Press reports. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have replaced the packed parties and overflowing buffet tables of the past with food-free open houses, face masks and testing for the unvaccinated.

Beyond the impact on Biden’s first Christmas in office, the virus and its variants largely put the kibosh on the entire White House social scene for 2021, starting with an inauguration that positioned flags in place of people on the National Mall.

“I think it’s been really tough on them,” said Philip Dufour, who was Vice President Al Gore’s social secretary. He noted that many events were not held while the president and first lady did others over Zoom.

Read the complete story here.

—Darlene Superville, The Associated Press

EXPLAINER: What next as high court wades into COVID mandate?

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Jan. 7 on whether the Biden administration can order workers at private companies and health care employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19, The Associated Press reports. Until the court rules, millions of workers face a patchwork of requirements depending on where they live.

Under a rule published by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Nov. 5, businesses with 100 or more workers must require employees to be vaccinated or, if they are not, to be tested weekly and wear masks while working. There are exceptions for those who work alone or mostly outdoors.

The same day, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a rule requiring a wide range of health care providers who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding to get the first vaccine dose this month and to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

That rule was projected to affect more than 17 million workers in about 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers.

The nation's highest court is intervening because the rules spawned multiple court challenges from more than two dozen Republican-led states, some conservative and business groups, and some individual businesses that opposed the vaccination mandates. Those challenges produced rulings among several federal district and circuit courts that contradicted one another.

Read the complete story here.

—Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press

Sea-Tac hit by cancellations as COVID snarls global holiday travel

Airlines canceled dozens of flights into and out of Seattle Tacoma International Airport on Friday as surging coronavirus infections from the omicron variant snarled global travel and crimped holiday plans for millions of travelers.

Among arrivals and departures at Sea-Tac Airport, 26 were reported canceled and another 81 were reported delayed as of 2:30 p.m., according to website FlightAware. Cancellations affected 12 scheduled departures, or 2% of all departures, and 14 scheduled arrivals (2%), according to FlightAware.

Airlines reporting cancellations Friday included Delta, with 12, or 7% of its total scheduled flights into or out of Sea-Tac; United, with five (17%); Alaska, with five (1%); JetBlue, with two (33%); and Spirit, with two (50%), according to FlightAware.

Another 38 cancellations were reported for flights scheduled into or out of Sea-Tac Airport on Christmas Day and another four for Sunday, as of 2:30 p.m., FlightAware reported.

Read the complete story here.

—Paul Roberts
Advertising

Pope celebrates Christmas Eve Mass as virus surges in Italy

Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve Mass before an estimated 2,000 people in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Friday, going ahead with the service despite the resurgence in COVID-19 cases that has prompted a new vaccine mandate for Vatican employees, The Associated Press reports.

A maskless Francis processed down the central aisle as the Sistine Chapel choir sang “Noel,” kicking off the Vatican’s Christmas holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. He remained maskless throughout the service.

In his homily, Francis urged the faithful to focus on the “littleness” of Jesus, and remember that he came into the world poor, without even a proper crib.

“That is where God is, in littleness,” Francis said. “This is the message: God does not rise up in grandeur, but lowers himself into littleness. Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters.”

Read the complete story here.

—Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press

Many US churches canceling in-person Christmas services

Amid the surge of coronavirus cases across the U.S., numerous churches have canceled in-person Christmas services, disappointing pastors and churchgoers who consider them an annual highlight, The Associated Press reports.

Other churches planned outdoor services or proposed a hybrid of online and in-person worship, often imposing tight restrictions for those in attendance. These included requirements to wear masks and show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Among the prominent churches canceling some or all of their in-person Christmas services were Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital; St. John the Divine, the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York; and the historic Old South Church in Boston.

Read the complete story here.

—David Crary, The Associated Press

3 COVID-19 outbreaks reported this week on Florida-based cruise ships

A COVID-19 outbreak took place on a South Florida-based cruise ship for the third time this week, as the number of coronavirus cases in Florida hit its second-highest level since the start of the pandemic.

An undisclosed number of passengers and crew aboard the Carnival Freedom caught the virus so the ship was denied entry to Bonaire and Aruba, Carnival said in a statement.

It was the third outbreak this week affecting cruise ships operated by Carnival and Royal Caribbean departing Miami and Fort Lauderdale ports.

The Carnival Freedom has 2,497 passengers and 1,112 crew members and was scheduled to return to Miami on Sunday following an 8-day cruise. Passengers were required to be vaccinated and they were tested before leaving last Saturday, according to Carnival.

“Carnival Freedom is following all protocols and has a small number on board who are in isolation due to a positive COVID test,” the statement said. “Our protocols anticipate this possibility and we implement them as necessary to protect the health and safety of our guests and crew.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
Advertising

Omicron and children: Pediatric hospitals in parts of U.S. filling fast

As the United States enters its third year of the pandemic, forecasters are predicting another ugly winter, but this time, children as well as adults are being affected.

Pediatric hospitalizations for COVID are surging in many parts of the country, alongside the arrival of omicron — as of Monday, the dominant strain in the United States — with about 800 new admissions each day for the past three days.

Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York have been hit particularly hard. As of Thursday, there were 1,987 confirmed or suspected pediatric COVID-19 patients hospitalized nationally, a 31% jump in 10 days, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Since the pandemic began, nearly 7.4 million children and adolescents have been infected, with 170,000 more added to that total in the last week alone, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We are in a difficult situation,” said Claudia Hoyen, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “With omicron, we are now having this new surge on top of what was left over from delta.”

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

How can I protect a child too young for a COVID-19 vaccine?

As families gather for the holidays, health experts are offering advice on protecting children too young for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Children younger than 5 can’t get COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. yet, but there are steps you can take to protect them from infection.

“Surround them with adults and siblings who are vaccinated, boosted if eligible,” advises Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She also encourages taking COVID-19 home tests before gatherings.

The CDC recommends that anyone who’s not vaccinated – including children ages 2 and older – wear masks indoors in public. If your child is younger than 2 — or cannot wear a mask for other reasons — the agency suggests limiting visits with unvaccinated people. And it says to keep a distance between the child and others in public places.

Adults might also opt to wear a mask indoors in public to set an example for young children, the CDC says. But in virus hot spots, it says everyone should wear masks in those settings, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated.

Matthew Binnicker, an expert in viral infections at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says it might be a good idea to have everyone masked at family gatherings if unvaccinated children are present, since there’s still a chance vaccinated adults can spread the virus.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

EXPLAINER: What COVID-19 therapies are available in US?

The U.S. recently added two new weapons to its small arsenal against the coronavirus: pills that patients can take at home to treat COVID-19.

The drugs from Pfizer and Merck join a handful of other therapies that have been shown to blunt the worst effects of the virus. But each treatment has different advantages and tends to work best for certain types of patients at different stages of the disease.

Here’s a look at the current COVID-19 drugs, including pills, antibody drugs and hospital treatments, and how they are used:

Read the complete story here.

—The Associated Press
Advertising

‘Truly a miracle’: Ex-Seahawk Dan Doornink’s family grateful after he nearly died from COVID-19 battle

For the better part of three weeks, ahead of another 14- or 15-hour day sitting inside Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, Sharon Doornink would wake up early at her Yakima home and pack herself a light lunch — half a peanut-butter sandwich and an apple most days.

That was enough to sustain her through the darkest days of her husband’s prolonged fight with COVID-19. That, and prayer.

“Lots and lots of prayer,” Sharon said.

Now Sharon was repeating the prayer aloud, hoping it might bring Dan some strength in what doctors kept telling her would be their final moments together.

They had been through so much together already, one little miracle after another, as Sharon saw it. She had supported him and raised their four children during his eight-year NFL career. He spent his final few seasons with the Seahawks simultaneously attending medical school at the University of Washington.

It was never enough for Dan to simply succeed at whatever he was doing. “He had to crush it,” his son, Tyler, said.

Which is part of what made his dire prognosis in the hospital so hard to fathom for his family. Here was this retired NFL running back, 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds in his playing days, a guy who was squatting 650 pounds in his heyday — he was Superman to his kids — now unable to breathe on his own. He was wilting away over the course of 23 days in intensive care, losing 38 pounds and just about all sense of self.

Read the complete story here.

—Adam Jude

Get ready for another rocky year: Markers for 2022

As readers know, Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton doesn't make predictions for the year ahead, but rather, sets "markers that will be important in the coming 12 months."

Among Talton's markers for 2022: our national and local pandemic response, especially to the new omicron variant; inflation and the actions of the Federal Reserve; the state of our national politics; and the success of Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell in steering "a more pragmatic path despite a far-left City Council majority."

Other markers Talton will be watching in 2022: Russian actions in Ukraine, Chinese actions toward Taiwan (and a shift in U.S.-China relations that could affect the global economy) and Iran's continuing nuclear ambitions.

Read the complete column here.

—Jon Talton

Thousands of flights delayed globally for Christmas holiday as omicron hits staffs

Thousands of Christmastime flights have been canceled around the world as airlines say the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus is preventing staffers from working.

More than 3,000 flights were canceled globally for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to the website FlightAware, while another 2,000 flights were scrapped on Thursday. FlightAware said more than 20 percent of those canceled for Friday involved travel within, into or out of the United States.

United Airlines had said in a statement Thursday that it was canceling 120 flights on Friday due to the variant. Delta said was canceling over 90 flights on Christmas Eve due to weather events and staffing issues.

The U.S. airlines said they were working hard to accommodate as many passengers as possible, but the disruption comes during one of the busiest travel periods in years. Many people who spent the holidays at home last year had planned a return to airports for the first time since the advent of the pandemic.

According to data from the Transportation Security Administration, since Dec. 16 more than 2 million people have passed through its security checkpoints almost every day — approximately double the number recorded on the same days last year. With 2,081,297 passengers recorded on Wednesday, the statistics surpassed the number of travelers reported the same day in 2019, before the pandemic.

Delta had already displayed concern over its ability to handle the holiday rush earlier this week. The airline's CEO sent a letter Tuesday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking the agency to reconsider its recommendation for a 10-day quarantine following a coronavirus infection. Delta proposed a 5-day waiting period for vaccinated employees who sustain breakthrough cases.

"Our employees represent an essential workforce to enable Americans who need to travel domestically and internationally," the letter reads. "With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the 10-day isolation for those who are fully vaccinated may significantly impact our workforce and operations."

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post
Advertising

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Omicron is now the dominant COVID-19 variant in much of Western Washington, and soon it will overtake delta statewide, a Harborview Medical Center leader says. Some hospitals are worried the surge they're seeing may be just the beginning.

COVID, cold or the flu? With omicron, it may be harder to tell. And that should play into your risk calculations, infectious-disease specialists say.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has tested positive.

If you're wrestling with COVID quandaries, you're not alone. For many Americans, it feels like amateur epidemiology hour yet again as they try to base personal decisions on fuzzy guidance in a changing landscape. A few helpful resources:

—Kris Higginson