Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, December 28, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

President Joe Biden told a group of governors that ‘there is no federal solution’ and the next steps to fight the virus lie in the hands of state officials.

Biden also shared government efforts to respond to omicron outbreaks across the U.S., including plans to deploy an additional 1,000 military doctors, nurses and medical staff to help hospitals stressed by surges in COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, Washington health officials reported the highest COVID-19 case count in King County to date amid a recent surge in omicron cases. The most populous county in the state saw a 195% increase in cases in the past seven days, reporting an average of 1,586 infections per day.

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.

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Judge rejects Oklahoma’s lawsuit over Guard vaccine mandate

A federal judge in Oklahoma on Tuesday ruled against the state in its lawsuit challenging the vaccine mandates for members of the Oklahoma National Guard in a dispute that is the first critical test of the military’s authority to require National Guard troops to get the shot.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot denied Oklahoma’s request for a preliminary injunction, saying the claims by Gov. Kevin Stitt, Attorney General John O’Connor and 16 anonymous Oklahoma National Guard members were without merit.

“The vaccine mandate to which the governor objects is the one — in addition to the nine that already apply to all service members — intended to protect service members from the virus which has, in less than two years, killed more Americans than have been killed in action in all of the wars the United States has ever fought,” Friot wrote. “The court is required to decide the case on the basis of federal law, not common sense. But, either way, the result would be the same.”

Stitt and O’Connor have been outspoken critics of vaccine mandates, even for military members, and have filed numerous lawsuits challenging such federal mandates.

Read the full story here.

—Sean Murphy, The Associated Press
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Setback for Belgian govt as coronavirus measures overturned

In a setback for the Belgian government, an advisory body on Tuesday suspended a Cabinet-ordered closure of part of the cultural sector — saying that new coronavirus restrictions imposed on theaters are unreasonable.

Under new restrictions that took effect Sunday, movie houses, concert halls and art centers were ordered to shut their doors. Some stayed open in protest. The order came despite the assessment of the scientific committee advising the government that going to such places poses no extra risk to public health.

In an emergency procedure, the Council of State ruled that measures concerning theaters were “not proportionate,” and didn’t provide enough motives to “understand why going to cultural sector performance venues was particularly dangerous for public health.”

The Council of State is an advisory body that has legal powers to overturn government decisions it considers unlawful.

The ruling came after a member of a production company launched an urgent appeal against the government decision to ensure that an end of year play could go ahead in suburban Brussels.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

1,100 flights canceled Tuesday as omicron, weather take toll on air travel

Flight disruptions triggered by weather and coronavirus-related staffing shortages eased slightly Tuesday, but they still amounted to more than 1,100 cancellations, stranding holiday travelers across the country as many try to return home.

The cancellations were down from Sunday and Monday, when more than 1,400 flights – including domestic trips and flights in and out of the United States – were scrubbed each day, according to FlightAware.

Across the country, airlines are trying to reschedule hundreds of delayed and canceled trips for passengers scrambling to get home after the holidays. The fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus began to overwhelm airlines just before Christmas, teaming up with pockets of wintry weather to disrupt flight schedules as millions of Americans traveled to visit family.

As the disruptions have dragged on, passengers have complained of multiple cancellations and difficulties in reaching customer service agents. When Sun Country Airlines tweeted a message to thank passengers for their patience, Ryan Boser unleashed keystrokes of fury over the frustrated hours he spent trying to reschedule a flight.

Read the full story here.

—Justin George and Ian Duncan, The Washington Post

US-Ireland cricket series ends because of COVID-19 concerns

The ODI leg of the white-ball cricket series between the United States and Ireland was canceled on Tuesday because of coronavirus-related concerns.

Two members of the Irish team’s support staff have tested positive, as well as several partners of players, resulting in two Ireland players being deemed as close contacts. All players returned negative test results in the latest checks overnight.

The first game of the three-match series had already been canceled, and the second one-day international put back a day, after COVID-19 cases were detected among the umpiring team and members of the U.S. squad.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Omicron variant might help defend against delta, lab study suggests

People who have recovered from an infection with the new omicron coronavirus variant may be able to fend off later infections from the delta variant, according to a new laboratory study carried out by South African scientists.

If further experiments confirm these findings, they could suggest a less dire future for the pandemic. In the short term, omicron is expected to create a surge of cases that will put a massive strain on economies and health care systems around the world. But in the longer term, the new research suggests that an omicron-dominated world might experience fewer hospitalizations and deaths than one in which delta continues to rage.

“Omicron is likely to push delta out,” said Alex Sigal, a virus expert at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, who led the new study. “Maybe pushing delta out is actually a good thing, and we’re looking at something we can live with more easily and that will disrupt us less than the previous variants.”

He posted the new study on the institute’s website Monday. It has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

Read the full story here.

—Carl Zimmer, The New York Times

Holiday Bowl scrapped as virus issues hit UCLA before kick

The Holiday Bowl became the fifth postseason college football game to be canceled when UCLA was forced to pull out just hours before Tuesday’s kickoff because of COVID-19 issues with the team.

The Bruins were scheduled to face No. 18 North Carolina State at Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres.

A surge in COVID-19 cases across the country has disrupted a second straight bowl season.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Possible virus closures as millions of tourists flock to world’s fair in Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Some venues at the world’s first major in-person event, the world’s fair in Dubai, may shut down as coronavirus cases rapidly rise in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai’s Expo 2020 said that virus outbreaks among staff may force some parts of the fair to “close temporarily for deep cleaning and sanitization,” without elaborating on the scope or the location of the infections.

The UAE’s daily virus caseload has skyrocketed by a multiple of 37 in just the last three weeks after the arrival of the omicron variant.

The vague statement from Dubai’s government-run media office on Monday underscores the daunting challenges of hosting the multi-billion dollar event during a raging pandemic.

Expo tries to enforce various virus precautions, with face masks mandatory on the fairgrounds and a vaccination certificate or recent negative virus test needed for entry. But there were no visible social distancing requirements at Expo’s massive concerts in recent weeks where revelers have rammed up against each other, waving their hands to the music.

With Dubai’s peak winter tourism season in full swing, millions of tourists from around the world are flocking to the sprawling site packed with scores of national pavilions, restaurants, shops and performance stages. Christmas parades drew crowds last week and Expo is now gearing up for big concerts to attract party-goers on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve bashes last year in Dubai helped drive a drastic surge in virus cases in the Emirates as tourists escaped lockdowns at home. Infections now hover below those heights but are climbing fast. The daily infection toll exceeded 1,840 on Tuesday, the highest in six months.

Read the story here.

—Isabel Debre, The Associated Press
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State health officials confirm 3,255 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,255 new coronavirus cases and 21 new deaths on Tuesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 877,378 cases and 9,822 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on weekends.

In addition, 45,070 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 117 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 195,696 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,138 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,847,628 doses and 62.6% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 38,534 vaccine shots per day.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Amanda Zhou

First COVID-19 shot recipient in US now a vaccine activist

She became a vaccine celebrity by accident.

Since being hailed as the first person in the United States to get a COVID-19 vaccine, New York nurse Sandra Lindsay has become a prominent face in the country’s biggest-ever vaccination campaign.

She has been promoting the shots on panels, in Zoom town halls and at other events.

“I encourage people to speak to experts who can answer their questions, to access trusted science. I let them know that it’s OK to ask questions,” said Lindsay, who has spoken at events in the U.S. and Jamaica, where she is from.

Lindsay got her shot in a widely televised moment on December 14 of last year as the U.S. was kicking off its vaccination effort.

With the arrival of the omicron variant and new surges around the country, Lindsay’s still addressing fears and misinformation. She said she acknowledges the mistrust in communities of color, which stems from past history. But she reassures people by noting she did her own research before getting her shot, and that there are safeguards in place.

“We’ve had millions and millions of people around the world get vaccinated without any significant adverse event,’’ she said.

Read the story here.

—Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press

COVID is here to stay. Here’s how we’re coming to terms with that

Heading into a third year of the pandemic, with yet another spike in cases and a new, more contagious variant arriving with the holidays, there seems to be no end in sight for the uncertainty and unpredictability.

Experts say we can no longer expect life to return to pre-COVID normal and adapting to the coronavirus has become a way of life.

Dr. Lateefah Watford, a psychiatrist in the Behavioral Health Department at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, said the pandemic has forced changes to every aspect of our life — from how and where we work to who cares for our children to how we worship or spend time with loved ones. Society has adapted with Zoom calls, working from home, gathering outside, wearing masks. All that change means people have become more flexible and can respond better going forward.

“I think for me as a psychiatrist and a person, as a parent and wife, I have to step back and say this is where we are, and I can only say what’s going on right now. What’s normal before is never going to be normal again and that’s OK,” said Watford. “To accept that, and not think this time it’s going to be over and going away, it’s just not. And truly acknowledging that will help us move forward.”

Experts say the same coping tips recommended during challenging times are still valid but maybe more important than ever during a pandemic. Watford said it’s important people take time to care for themselves to help reduce stress and avoid burnout. That means, she said, making a commitment every day to carve out something you enjoy doing — such as exercising, reading, cooking. Mindfulness can also be helpful. And many experts point to a practice of gratitude and focusing on what we have and what we can do, not on what we don’t and can’t.

Read the story here.

—Helena Oliviero, Cox Newspapers
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CDC significantly lowers estimate of omicron’s prevalence nationwide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the omicron variant now accounts for roughly 59% of all COVID cases in the United States, a significant decrease from the agency’s previous estimate. The update shows how hard it is to track the fast-spreading variant in real time and how poorly the agency has communicated its uncertainty, experts said.

Last week, the CDC said that omicron accounted for approximately 73% of variants circulating in the United States in the week ending Dec. 18. But in its revision, the agency said the variant accounted for about 23% of cases that week.

In other words, delta, which has dominated U.S. infections since summer, still reigned in the United States that week. That could mean that a significant number of current COVID hospitalizations were driven by infections from delta, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, suggested on Twitter. Hospitalizations typically lag several weeks behind initial infections.

Read the story here.

—Emily Anthes and Sabrina Imbler, The New York Times

Omicron surge means it’s time to upgrade your mask: Here’s how

Health officials and experts are increasingly saying it’s time to upgrade your face masks, especially in light of the omicron surge.

California’s public health director and health officer, Dr. Tomás Aragón, wrote recently that with the increasing airborne spread of the coronavirus, it’s important to improve the fit of masks and their filtration — making enhancements that go beyond old, loose, cloth face coverings that became popular in 2020.

Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Medicine, agreed. Since omicron is twice as infectious, Wachter wrote, “an encounter that you could have tolerated for Delta may well infect you [with] Omicron. Knowing this, it’s worth upgrading the protection you get from your mask.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the best kinds for protection are N95, KN95 and KF94 masks and the next best are surgical masks.

Read the story here.

—Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times

California 1st state to top 5M cases amid omicron surge

California became the first state to record more than 5 million known coronavirus infections, according to the state dashboard Tuesday, which was delayed by the holiday weekend.

The grim milestone, as reported by the California Department of Public Health, wasn’t entirely unexpected in a state with 40 million residents poised for a surge in new infections amid holiday parties and family gatherings forced indoors by a series of winter storms.

The first coronavirus case in California was confirmed Jan. 25, 2020. It took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on Nov. 11 of that year, and 44 days from then to top 2 million.

California has recorded more than 75,500 deaths related to COVID-19.

The state has fared far better than many other states that are dealing with a coronavirus surge, with areas in the Midwest and Northeast seeing the biggest jump in cases and hospitalizations amid frigid temperatures that have kept people indoors.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Washington state reports record number of coronavirus infections on Christmas Eve

The Washington Department of Health has reported a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, including a new record number of cases tallied in a single day.

According to DOH, state officials confirmed 6,235 new cases on Dec. 24, surpassing the state’s previous single-day record number of cases, which was 5,526 cases on Dec. 7, 2020.

Dec. 24 also marked the first time Washington had reported more than 6,000 cases in a single day.

The surge mirrors similar trends across U.S. cities as the highly transmissible omicron variant has become dominant in the country and pushed daily counts past the peak of the earlier delta variant wave.

On Monday, DOH also confirmed an additional 3,847 cases and 17 new deaths and King County reported its highest number of daily cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Amanda Zhou

US move to shorten COVID-19 isolation stirs confusion, doubt

U.S. health officials’ decision to shorten the recommended COVID-19 isolation and quarantine period from 10 days to five is drawing criticism from some medical experts and could create more confusion and fear among Americans.

To the dismay of some authorities, the new guidelines allow people to leave isolation without getting tested to see if they are still infectious.

The guidance has raised questions about how it was crafted and why it was changed now, in the middle of another wintertime spike in cases, this one driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Monday’s action by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut in half the recommended isolation time for Americans who are infected with the coronavirus but have no symptoms. The CDC similarly shortened the amount of time people who have come into close contact with an infected person need to quarantine.

Read the story here.

—Katie Foody and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Anger over mask mandates, other COVID rules, spurs states to curb power of public health officials

At the entrance to the Lowe’s in a central Ohio strip mall, a bright blue-and-white sign tells customers that, under local ordinances, they must wear a face covering inside. Next door, at Hale’s Ales & Kitchen, a sign asks customers to please be patient with a staff shortage — with no mention of masks.

The city line between Columbus and suburban Hilliard crosses right through the strip mall, Mill Run Square. In Columbus, where the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store lies, the city council early in the coronavirus pandemic created a mask requirement that remains in place. In Hilliard, where Hales is located, the city council has not imposed a mask rule, despite entreaties from the top county health official as coronavirus cases spiked.

Under a new law in Ohio — one of at least 19 states this year that have restricted state or local authorities from safeguarding public health amid the coronavirus pandemic — Franklin County’s health commissioner Joe Mazzola can no longer intervene. The county health department was stripped of its power to compel people to wear masks even as the omicron variant fuels a fifth coronavirus surge in the United States.

“We’ve not been able to put in place the policy that would protect our community,” Mazzola said.

The number of states that have passed laws similar to Ohio’s is proliferating fast, from eight identified in one study in May to more than double that many as of last month, according to an analysis by Temple University’s Center for Public Health Law Research. And around the country, many more measures are being debated or being prepared for legislative sessions to start early in the new year.

These laws — the work of Republican legislators — inhibit health officers’ ability to require masks, promote vaccinations or take other steps, such as closing or limiting the number of patrons in restaurants, bars and other indoor public settings. Often, the measures shift those decisions from health experts to elected officials at a time when such coronavirus-fighting strategies have become politically radioactive.

Read the story here.

—Amy Goldstein, The Washington Post
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Undertakers, rabbis join global fight promoting COVID shots

In Germany, Lutheran pastors are offering COVID-19 shots inside churches. In Israel’s science-skeptical ultra-Orthodox community, trusted rabbis are trying to change minds. And in South Africa, undertakers are taking to the streets to spread the word.

The funeral directors’ message: “We’re burying too many people.’’

A year after the COVID-19 vaccine became available, traditional public health campaigns promoting vaccination are often going unheeded. So an unconventional cadre of people has joined the effort.

They are opening sanctuaries and going door to door and village to village, touting the benefits of the vaccines and sometimes offering shots on the spot.

As the outbreak drags on into a third year, with the global death toll at 5.4 million, vaccine promoters are up against fear, mistrust, complacency, inconvenience and people who simply have bigger worries than COVID-19.

On a December day, a convoy of hearses with sirens wailing drove up to a shopping mall in Johannesburg’s sprawling Soweto township.

“Vaccinate, vaccinate!’’ Vuyo Mabindisi of Vuyo’s Funeral Services said as he handed out pamphlets on how to avoid COVID-19. “We don’t want to see you coming to our offices.”

Read the story here.

—Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press

Asian shares mixed as omicron worries crimp market optimism

Asian shares were mixed Tuesday, as optimism set off by a rally on Wall Street was dampened by concerns over the potential impact of the omicron variant of coronavirus.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 jumped nearly 1.0% to 28,960.31 in morning trading. South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.1% to 3,002.72. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.1% to 23,201.42, while the Shanghai Composite dipped 0.2% to 3,610.32. Trading was closed in Australia for Boxing Day.

Much of Asia has yet to see surges in infections of the omicron variant already playing out in other parts of the world, but experts are warning the region likely won’t be spared.

Read the story here.

—Yuri Kageyama, The Associated Press

As omicron spreads, Florida hospitals see more patients — some unaware they had COVID

With Florida reporting record new COVID-19 cases and South Florida leading the surge, all eyes are now on hospitalizations, which generally increase about two weeks after a spike in infections.

Anecdotal reports and emerging evidence strongly suggest that the highly contagious omicron variant causes less severe illness than prior strains of the coronavirus, though public health experts emphasize that if more people get sick with COVID-19 — even a mild case — then the number of people hospitalized is likely to grow, too.

So far, Florida’s rapid increase in cases has not translated into a dramatic surge in hospitalizations. South Florida hospitals are reporting a rising number of COVID-19 inpatients, though many of those patients are being diagnosed after they’ve entered the hospital for a medical reason unrelated to the disease, such as a car accident or to deliver a baby.

Read the story here.

—Daniel Chang, McClatchy Washington Bureau
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Officials: Nearly 25% of Navy warship crew has COVID-19

About two dozen sailors on a U.S. Navy warship — or roughly 25% of the crew — have now tested positive for COVID-19, keeping the ship sidelined in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba Monday, according to U.S. defense officials.

The USS Milwaukee has a crew of a bit more than 100, and it was forced to pause its deployment late last week because of the coronavirus outbreak. The defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the outbreak, said the number of infected sailors is staying relatively constant at this point.

The USS Milwaukee, a smaller, stealthier combat ship, is the first Navy ship this year to have to interrupt its deployment at sea.

Another warship, meanwhile, had to postpone its movement out to sea earlier this month due to a separate outbreak. Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, spokesman for 3rd Fleet, said the USS Halsey, a destroyer, delayed its homeport move from Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, to San Diego because a significant number of the crew became infected with COVID-19.

A Navy official said roughly one-third of the Halsey crew of about 300 has tested positive for the virus, and most had only mild symptoms or none at all.

Read the story here.

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

Analysis: Omicron looms ominously over NFL’s playoff races

Quick, who’s your favorite team’s backup quarterback? Or the backup’s backup? Who’s their best pass rushing proxy? Fill-in cover cornerback? What about the substitute snapper or the stand-in blindside protector?

Who is, as coaches like to say, the next man up?

Now’s a good time to get to know the bottom of your roster and even the practice squad.

With COVID-19’s omicron wave wreaking havoc on rosters and a natural uptick in ailments and injuries from the NFL’s new 17-game schedule, there’s a decent chance your team’s hopes of going far in the playoffs — or even reaching the postseason — will come down to one or more of these men whose uniforms are rarely sullied or even sold in the gift shop on Sundays.

Plenty of teams were hamstrung in Week 16 while missing key players at key positions.

Read the story here.

—Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press

U.S. hospitals steel for continuing surge in COVID cases fueled by the omicron variant

U.S. hospitals continue to reel from surging volumes of coronavirus patients as the omicron variant drives a record-breaking flurry of infections in some regions — with medical workers bracing for more misery in the weeks ahead.

The New York City health department reported that the seven-day average of confirmed and probable coronavirus cases there has climbed to 17,334 a day, the highest recorded levels of the pandemic, and a roughly tenfold increase from a month ago.

“The numbers look huge. But my guess is the true number is much, much higher,” said Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “It’s definitely missing a lot of people who are testing positive on rapid tests” and failing to report their results.

Health care workers responding to the increase in coronavirus cases say the new demands are further straining a health system already frayed from nearly two years of pandemic response.

Read the story here.

—Sean Sullivan, Tim Craig and Dan Diamond, The Washington Post
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Catch up on the last 24 hours

As daily coronavirus cases in the U.S. soared to near-record levels, federal health officials Monday shortened by half the recommended isolation period for many infected Americans, hoping to minimize rising disruptions to the economy and everyday life.

King county has seen a 195% increase in cases in the past seven days, averaging 1,586 infections per day. It’s unclear how many of those cases are attributed to omicron, but local health experts have been predicting a “rapid surge” from the variant.

Thousands of flights are being canceled across the world as the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly, including among airline staff and crew members. Here's what to do if your flight gets canceled.

—Seattle Times staff