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 It is no longer being updated.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

The United States celebrated an “early but important milestone” Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, announcing that more than a million Americans have received coronavirus vaccines since federal officials authorized two types for emergency use.

In Washington, EvergreenHealth in Kirkland — the hospital that became the early face of the fight against COVID-19 — marked its own turning point, beginning its inoculations from a supply of 3,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine

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 and the world.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

More

A century after phony flu ads, companies hype dubious COVID cures

With a pandemic raging, a spate of ads promised dubious remedies in the form of lozenges, tonics, unguents, blood-builders and an antiseptic shield to be used while kissing.

That was in 1918, during the influenza outbreak that eventually claimed an estimated 50 million lives, including 675,000 in the United States.

More than a century later, not much has changed. Ads promoting unproven miracle cures — including intravenous drips, ozone therapy and immunity-boosting music — have targeted people trying to avoid the coronavirus pandemic.

“History is repeating itself,” said Roi Mandel, the head of research at the ancestry website MyHeritage, which recently unearthed and compared pandemic ads published generations apart. “So many things are exactly the same, even 102 years later, even after science has made such huge progress.”

This year, a company with a California address peddled products containing kratom, an herbal extract that has drawn concern from regulators and health experts, with the promise that it might “keep the coronavirus at bay.” The Food and Drug Administration sent the company a warning in May.

The claims are an echo from 1918, when an ad for Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets promised that the pills — made from “May-apple, leaves of aloe, jalap” — offered protection “against the deadly attack of the Spanish Influenza.”

—The New York Times
Advertising

South Korea reports record surge, ramps up testing

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported its largest daily increase in coronavirus infections on Christmas Day, as the prime minister pleaded for vigilance to arrest a viral surge that has worsened hospitalization and deaths. 

The 1,241 new cases confirmed by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Friday brought the country’s caseload to 54,770. Seventeen COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 773.

More than 870 of the new cases were from the greater capital area, home to half of the country’s 51 million population, where more than 500 infections have been linked to a huge prison in Seoul. Clusters have been popping up from just about everywhere in recent weeks, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, churches, restaurants and army units.

The country has been expanding its mass testing program to slow the rate of transmissions and more than 118,000 tests were conducted on Thursday alone. Officials are also clamping down on private gatherings through Jan. 3, shutting down national parks and ski resorts and setting fines for restaurants if they receive groups of five people or more.

—Associated Press

Mink caught outside Oregon farm tests positive for virus

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Agriculture said among animals captured during wildlife surveillance near a mink farm that recently had a coronavirus outbreak, a mink believed to have recently escaped confinement tested positive for low levels of the virus known to cause COVID-19 in humans.

State officials released a statementsaying recent tests confirm mink at the farm that tested positive for the virus in late November are now clear of the virus. 

KOIN reports the department conducted two rounds of follow-up tests, 14 days apart, to document the animals’ recovery. 

The first follow-up testing occurred pm Dec. 7 with only on of the 62 tested animals testing positive for barely detectable levels of the virus. With the second round of testing on Dec. 21, there were no signs of the virus among all 62 tested, indicating the mink population on the farm had recovered, ODA said. 

One more round of testing will be conducted prior to releasing the quarantine, per federal guidelines.

—Associated Press

Raise your mittens: Outdoor learning continues into winter

Schools nationwide scrambled to get students outdoors during the pandemic to keep them safe and stop the spread of COVID-19. Now, with temperatures plummeting, a smaller number of schools — even in some of the nation’s most frigid climes — plan to keep it going all winter long, with students trading desks in warm classrooms for tree stumps or buckets.

“It’s the healthiest, safest place for us to be right now. Anything that we can do to get kids outdoors for longer periods of time is vital. This is where we need to be right now,” said Anne Stires, an outdoor learning consultant and advocate in Maine.

For educators, outdoor learning is yet another transition. Last spring, it was remote learning. Then they switched to hybrid models. Now they’re scrambling to equip kids to stay warm outside.

Stires founded the Juniper Hill School in Alna, an hour from Portland, Maine, to test ways of teaching through nature, and she has demonstrated how dressing for the elements and active exploration keep kids happy on cold days.

Taken to the limit, she has found, kids can spend virtually all day outside. 

Her pre-K and kindergarten kids even nap outside. They’re cozy during their quiet time in hammocks in wool-lined sleeping bags filled with hot water.

—Associated Press
Advertising

Conceived in a pandemic, born in a pandemic: The first quarantine babies are arriving

Katy Dobson and her family have taken to calling her 2-week-old boy, Atlas, a “coronial.” Atlas’s time in his mother’s womb coincided almost perfectly with the nine months that the United States has spent battling the coronavirus pandemic. He was born Dec. 8 in Pensacola, Fla., almost 39 weeks after the surreal Wednesday in March when Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive, the NBA suspended its season because of transmission concerns, and the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

When shutdowns began in the United States back in March, almost immediately there were titters and murmurs of the baby boom that would materialize nine months later. It’s still unclear what’s happening on a national scale. Some hospitals and midwife groups, such as Brigham and Women’s in Boston and Brooklyn Homebirth Midwifery in New York, have reported no notable change in numbers of patients expecting in December and January, while Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor has seen about a 10% decrease.

The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doesn’t expect to release the nationwide birthrate data for late 2020 (and settle once and for all the whole “boom or bust” question) for another six months.

But what’s clear now is that the first wave of pandemic babies is making its way into the world, and their parents have experienced pregnancy in a way that few others in modern history have.

—The Washington Post

Mexico starts giving first shots of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine

MEXICO CITY — An intensive care nurse in Mexico City on Thursday became the first person in Latin America to receive an approved coronavirus vaccine. 

Mexico began administering the first 3,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in a broadcast ceremony in which Maria Irene Ramirez, 59, got the first shot, under the watchful eyes of military personnel who escorted the vaccine shipment. 

“This is the best present I could have received in 2020,” said Ramirez. ”The truth is we are afraid, but we have to keep going because someone has to be in the front line of this battle.”

Other doctors and nurses rolled up their sleeves in the chill morning air at outside vaccination stations in the cities of Toluca and Queretaro. The country’s 1.4 million health workers will be the first to get the shots, followed by the elderly, those with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease, and teachers.

—Associated Press

California becomes first state to record 2 million virus cases

LOS ANGELES — California has become the first state to record 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases.

A tally by Johns Hopkins University on Thursday morning showed the nation’s most populous state has a total of 2,010,157 infections. There have been more than 23,000 deaths.

The grim milestone comes as the COVID-19 crisis that health officials say stems from Thanksgiving gatherings strains California’s medical system. More than 18,000 people are hospitalized and many of the state’s intensive care units are filled. 

—Associated Press
Advertising

Answering Trump, Democrats try and fail to jam $2,000 payments through House

WASHINGTON — The fate of $900 billion in pandemic aid will remain in limbo over the Christmas break after House Democrats tried and failed Thursday to more than triple the size of relief checks, then adjourned the House until Monday, when they will try again.

President Donald Trump’s implicit threat Tuesday to reject a relief compromise that overwhelmingly passed both chambers unless lawmakers agreed to raise the bill’s $600 direct payment checks to $2,000 has continued to roil Congress while rattling an already teetering economic recovery.

Trump decamped for Mar-a-Lago, his club in Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday without saying another public word on the relief bill’s fate, leaving both parties to guess whether he really intends to veto the long-delayed measure, which includes the pandemic aid as well as funding to keep the government open past Monday.

The result of the dysfunction is that millions of Americans who were counting on relief in the immediate future, or even continued unemployment checks, are not going to get them, barring a surprise bill signing in Florida.

—The New York Times

State reports 2,903 new COVID-19 cases and 22 new deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,903 new coronavirus cases and 22 new deaths as of Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 233,093 cases and 3,184 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. Wednesday.

In addition, 13,908 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 291 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 59,894 COVID-19 diagnoses and 976 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.

—Nicole Brodeur

More than half of Americans stayed put for Thanksgiving, survey shows

Passengers walk near the south end of the terminal at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac Thursday, September 24, 2020. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
Passengers walk near the south end of the terminal at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac Thursday, September 24, 2020. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

While it remains to be seen whether Americans will heed the Centers for Disease Control’s urging to forgo Christmas travel this year, the numbers for Thanksgiving showed some measure of compliance: More than half of Americans changed their Thanksgiving plans because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that 57% of Americans changed their Thanksgiving plans due to the pandemic.

The survey found than one-third of U.S. adults (33%) changed their Thanskgiving plans "a great deal," while just under a quarter (24%) changed their plans "some." Another 38% of adults said their plans changed "not too much," or "not at all."

Overall, a third of U.S. adults (33%) say they changed their Thanksgiving plans “a great deal,” while roughly a quarter (24%) changed their plans “some.” Another 38% of adults say their plans changed “not too much” (16%) or “not at all."

The survey results mirrored the partisan differences that have marked Americans’ response to the COVID-19 crisis: Seven-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they changed their Thanksgiving plans “a great deal or some” due to the virus, compared with 44% of Republicans and GOP leaners.

Numbers by the Transportation Security Agency supported the Pew findings, showing a more than 50 percent drop in passengers passing through checkpoints in the days before Thanksgiving. On November 25, for example, 1,070,967 people passed through TSA checkpoints this year, compared to 2,624,250 in 2019.

The Pew survey of 12,648 U.S. adults was conducted Nov. 18 to 29 as part of the Center’s American News Pathways project. The United States has recorded more than 17.7 million cases of COVID-19, including more than 316,000 deaths.

—Nicole Brodeur
Advertising

First flight from U.K., where COVID-19 variant is spreading, lands at Sea-Tac

The first flight from the United Kingdom to Washington arrived Wednesday after Gov. Jay Inslee announced quarantine requirements on travelers from countries with a new, more transmissible coronavirus variant.

The British Airways flight from London landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport carrying about 80 passengers. They are all required to quarantine for 14 days under the governor’s Monday order aimed at reducing the chance that the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus could be introduced into Washington.

The order comes about a month after Inslee issued an advisory to all travelers to Washington, including residents, recommending a 14-day self-quarantine after returning to the state.

The new quarantine requirement currently applies to travelers from the U.K. and South Africa, where the new virus variant — which spreads significantly more quickly and easily, but is not thought to be deadlier or more vaccine-resistant — has been detected.

However, importation of the variant seems likely, according to U.S. officials.

Read the whole story here.

—Benjamin Romano

COVID-19 health insurance provisions extended to Jan. 23

Health insurers in Washington must continue to waive copays and deductibles for any consumer requiring coronavirus testing through Jan. 23, under an extension of emergency orders issued Thursday.

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler again extended emergency orders first issued in March pertaining to testing copays and deductibles. He also extended an order aimed at protecting people from surprise bills for lab fees related to medically necessary COVID-19 diagnostic testing.

The requirements apply to state-regulated health insurance plans, as well as limited-duration medical plans, according to a news release from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

Other provisions of Kreidler’s emergency orders require insurers to suspend prior authorization requirements for COVID-19 testing and treatment, and allowing treatment by providers outside of an insurance plan’s network if in-network medical providers are insufficient.

—Benjamin Romano

Catch up on the past 24 hours

It was 300 days ago that the virus was found at EvergreenHealth — the first identified U.S. outbreak of the mysterious disease that would upend all of our lives. Gene Wabinga, who cleaned the room of the hospital’s first COVID-19 patient, yesterday became one of EvergreenHealth's first staffers to receive a vaccine. It came as the state is making progress on the most urgent vaccinations and seeing promising signs in coronavirus case numbers.

"Mom’s worth it": Holiday travel is surging despite pleas from public health experts, and for many, the decision to go was excruciatingly difficult. For those who are traveling, here's a short guide to quarantining after holiday trips.

If you get COVID-19, are you protected against future infections? Although some people do get reinfected, two new studies offer encouraging evidence about antibodies.

Washington state's ban on evictions, which was set to expire next week, will be extended into the spring. 

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, of Everett, has tested positive and says he's ready to vote from afar if needed.

Intensive-care nurse Merlin Pambuan nearly died multiple times. This week, after an eight-month fight with COVID-19, she walked down a hospital hallway and into her "second life" with a message of grit and hope.

Dr. Anthony Fauci turns 80 today. He says he's worked every day since January, telling himself, "I’m gonna dig deep and just suck it up." He's reflecting on how he'll mark the day, the extraordinary decision that changed his life, and more. It's a good read.

—Kris Higginson
Advertising

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.