Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Donald Trump has signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown.
The deal also provides $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as an increase in food stamp benefits.
While the president insisted he would send Congress “a redlined version” with items to be removed under the rescission process, those are merely suggestions to Congress. The bill, as signed, would not necessarily be changed.
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.
Third patient at Western State Hospital died from COVID-19
A third patient at Western State Hospital, who spent several weeks being treated at a local hospital, died on Christmas Eve from COVID-19, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
Western State Hospital is an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Lakewood, Pierce County. The first patient died from COVID-19 in March and a second patient died earlier last week, says a DSHS news release posted to its website on Monday. Demographic information about the patients who died was not included in the release.
Eight staff members and three other patients have also tested positive for the coronavirus, the news release says.
State reports 1,311 new coronavirus cases and 11 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,311 new coronavirus cases and 11 new deaths as of Sunday.
The update brings the state's totals to 238,672 cases and 3,195 deaths, meaning that 1.3% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.
In addition, 14,276 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 180 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 61.148 COVID-19 diagnoses and 977 deaths.
The DOH noted Monday that negative test results data from November 21-30 of this year are currently incomplete; and that death data have not been systematically updated since December 24 due to a processing issue.
"We are currently working to address these issues as quickly as possible," the agency noted.
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.
Family wonders if they should hope a loved one with COVID-19 lives — or help him die
LOS ANGELES — Bob Harris gave his family one final gift.
He told them he did not want to be placed on a ventilator. He was at peace and ready to meet Jesus. Then, when his family was just not prepared for him to stop the fight against COVID-19, he agreed to be intubated. For a week.
A week wasn’t enough.
His wife, Marilou, had dropped him off at the emergency room on Oct. 29 with a hopeful, “Sweetie, I’ll come and get you tomorrow morning.” The 61-year-old motivational speaker had felt sick enough that day to seek a doctor’s care — but well enough to mail bills and his absentee ballot en route to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, an L.A. suburb.
One week on the ventilator turned into three, and in early December the Harris family faced a terrible decision.
If Bob were to continue on the ventilator, he would have to have a tracheostomy — a surgical procedure in which a hole would be cut into his neck. That way, the ventilator could pump oxygen into his lungs through a tube in his airway instead of one down his throat.
Marilou, Michelle and Michael had not seen their husband and father in person for 36 days. They hadn’t held Bob’s hand or stroked his forehead. There’d been phone calls and texts and video meetings. But once he was placed on the ventilator, even his voice was silenced. In the cruel calculus of COVID-19, there was only one way they could be with him in the hospital.
If the ventilator was turned off. If he was about to die.
Small number of COVID patients develop severe psychotic symptoms
Almost immediately, Dr. Hisam Goueli could tell that the patient who came to his psychiatric hospital on Long Island this summer was unusual.
The patient, a 42-year-old physical therapist and mother of four young children, had never had psychiatric symptoms or any family history of mental illness. Yet there she was, sitting at a table in a beige-walled room at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, New York, sobbing and saying that she kept seeing her children, ages 2 to 10, being gruesomely murdered and that she herself had crafted plans to kill them.
“It was like she was experiencing a movie, like ‘Kill Bill,’” said Goueli, a psychiatrist.
The patient described one of her children being run over by a truck and another decapitated. “It’s a horrifying thing that here’s this well-accomplished woman and she’s like ‘I love my kids, and I don’t know why I feel this way that I want to decapitate them,’” he said.
The only notable thing about her medical history was that the woman, who declined to be interviewed but allowed Goueli to describe her case, had become infected with the coronavirus in the spring. She had experienced only mild physical symptoms from the virus, but, months later, she heard a voice that first told her to kill herself and then told her to kill her children.
At South Oaks, which has an inpatient psychiatric treatment program for COVID-19 patients, Goueli was unsure whether the coronavirus was connected to the woman’s psychological symptoms. “Maybe this is COVID-related, maybe it’s not,” he recalled thinking.
“But then,” he said, “we saw a second case, a third case and a fourth case, and we’re like, ‘There’s something happening.’”
Indeed, doctors are reporting similar cases across the country and around the world. A small number of COVID patients who had never experienced mental health problems are developing severe psychotic symptoms weeks after contracting the coronavirus.
Fifth Alaska inmate dies with COVID-19 during pandemic
An Alaska inmate has died from coronavirus complications, becoming the fifth inmate in the state grappling with prison outbreaks to die of COVID-19, officials said.
The state Department of Corrections said in a statement on Sunday that the 76-year-old man was taken to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center on Nov. 30, nearly a month before he died Dec. 26.
Fired Tyson boss says COVID office pool was a ‘morale boost’
One of the Tyson Foods managers fired for betting on how many workers would contract COVID-19 at an Iowa pork plant said the office pool was spontaneous fun and intended to boost morale.
Don Merschbrock, former night manager at the plant in Waterloo, Iowa, said he was speaking in an attempt to show that the seven fired supervisors are “not the evil people” that Tyson has portrayed. “We really want to clear our names,” he told The Associated Press. “We actually worked very hard and took care of our team members well.”
Tyson announced the terminations of the Waterloo managers Dec. 16, weeks after the betting allegation surfaced in wrongful death lawsuits filed by the families of four workers who died of COVID-19.
Novavax begins final-stage trial of its coronavirus vaccine in U.S., Mexico
Novavax Inc. will start the final-stage trial of its coronavirus vaccine with 30,000 people in the U.S. and Mexico, opening another avenue for shots to fight the pandemic, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.
The trial, to be completed across 115 locations, is the latest large-scale effort in the U.S. to evaluate vaccines to protect against the virus that’s killed more than 330,000 Americans. The company is also studying the vaccine in a large trial in the U.K. that’s completed dosing.
The trials will show whether the Novavax vaccine is similarly effective to shots already authorized in the U.S. that have demonstrated greater than 90% protection from illness.
TSA screens highest number of airport passengers since pandemic started
The highest number of airline travelers since the start of the coronavirus pandemic were screened this weekend, according to airport security officials.
The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 1.28 million people Sunday at airport security checkpoints across the country.
TSA officials also said the figure marks the sixth time in 10 days that daily volume has topped 1 million. Still volumes were down 55% to 65% from pre-COVID times.
Lebanon reserving nearly 2 million coronavirus vaccines
Lebanon’s health minister said Monday his country has reserved nearly 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to fight the coronavirus, an amount that covers up to 20% of Lebanese.
Hamad Hassan said in a news conference his government has been negotiating with the company to acquire the vaccines and that they are expected to be in Lebanon by February. The deal was expected to be signed Monday.
Lebanon is reeling from a historic economic crisis that has left the highly indebted government short on cash and foreign currency.
Coronavirus vaccinations begin at Life Care Center of Kirkland, original epicenter of Seattle-area COVID-19 outbreak
Residents and staff members Life Care Center of Kirkland began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine Monday almost exactly 10 months — 303 days — after the first death at the facility was made public.
The outbreak at Life Care Center of Kirkland effectively marked the start of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States, signaling that the virus had not only made its way into a community but had likely spread undetected for weeks.
Within a month, 39 residents and seven others died, and dozens more were sickened with the virus. The outbreak served as a portend of how deadly the virus would be in other long-term care facilities; in Washington state, 53% of all COVID-19 victims lived in, worked at or had visited a long-term care site.
The outbreak at the facility left 46 people dead and served as a portend of how deadly the virus would be in long-term care facilities.
Follow reporter Paige Cornwell here.
As South Africa’s virus spikes, doctors urge alcohol ban
With a new surge pushing South Africa’s cumulative virus cases above 1 million, the country’s doctors are urging the government to return to tighter restrictions on social gatherings and the sales of alcohol to slow the spread of the disease.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has held an emergency meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council and has announced he will speak to the nation Monday night.
The country surpassed the 1 million mark on Sunday night when it reported 1,004,413 cumulative cases of COVID-19, including 26,735 deaths.
South Africa is battling a variant of COVID-19 that is more infectious and has become dominant in many parts of the country, according to experts.
The South African Medical Association, representing the country’s doctors, nurses and health workers, warned on Monday that the health system is on the verge of being overwhelmed by the combination of higher numbers of people with COVID-19 and people needing urgent care from alcohol-related incidents. Many festive gatherings during the holidays involve high levels of alcohol consumption, which in turn often lead to increased trauma cases.
AP source: NFL fines Ravens $250,000 for COVID violations
The Baltimore Ravens were fined $250,000 by the NFL for violating COVID-19 protocols, a person with direct knowledge of the punishment told The Associated Press on Monday.
The team was not docked draft picks for the violations, which led to a coronavirus outbreak and the rescheduling of the Ravens’ Thanksgiving night game against Pittsburgh.
Why a Michigan doctor is driving coronavirus vaccines from hospital to hospital in a Honda
ALPENA, Mich. – Snow fell as Richard Bates opened the passenger door of his silver Honda pickup truck. He placed a blue cooler packed with 130 doses of coronavirus vaccine on the front seat and buckled it in.
For the next three hours he traversed more than 140 miles, from MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland in Midland, Mich., to a rural community hospital here. Bates instinctively put his arm out in front of the cooler to keep it from sliding off, as if it was a toddler in the front seat, when he slowed down or hit the brakes.
The nation’s first coronavirus vaccines have largely gone to large medical centers in major cities, meaning many rural health-care workers will have to wait to get vaccinated as cases skyrocket nationwide.
But at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, Michigan’s most geographically isolated hospital, doses are being injected into the arms of health-care workers in a hospital 70 miles from the nearest interstate exit – thanks to Bates’s road trips. Bates likened the journeys to what he has spent much of his career doing: delivering babies and handing them to their parents for the first time.
“The only thing I can liken this to really is that feeling,” he said. “Once the baby is in your hands, you don’t think about the pain of labor anymore … all the hopes and dreams are there.”
Iran says Pfizer vaccine batch expected from US benefactors
An unidentified group of U.S.-based philanthropists plans to send 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Iran in the coming weeks, Iranian media reported Monday, in a step that could bring the hardest-hit country in the Middle East closer to inoculating its citizens against the coronavirus.
Details remained scarce in the report by semiofficial Tasnim news agency. It quoted the chief of the country’s Red Crescent Society as saying he expects the vaccine created by American drug maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to be imported by Jan. 19 “based on coordination with a group of benefactors in the U.S.”
Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East, which has infected over 1.2 million people and killed nearly 55,000.
British hospitals scramble for space as virus cases soar
British hospitals are canceling non-urgent procedures and scrambling to find space for COVID-19 patients as coronavirus cases continue to surge despite tough new restrictions imposed to curb a fast-spreading new variant of the virus.
Another 41,385 confirmed cases were recorded across the U.K. on Monday. It was the first time the daily number of cases reported in the country surpassed 40,000, although many more tests are being performed than earlier in the pandemic.
People with coronavirus are still getting on planes. No one knows how many.
In the days after a man on their flight stopped breathing, fellow passengers wondered if he was infected with coronavirus — and whether they might be at risk. The airline said it didn’t know, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wouldn’t say publicly.
An answer didn’t come until a local coroner released a report a week later confirming that COVID-19 was a cause of the 69-year-old man’s death on Dec. 14, along with acute respiratory failure. By Wednesday, three different passengers said they still hadn’t gotten official word from any public health authorities.
Tony Aldapa, a passenger who helped perform CPR on the man during the flight, said he finally heard from a public health official on Dec. 24 — 10 days after the flight.
The tale of United Flight 591 illustrates the challenges of keeping the novel coronavirus off planes — and informing travelers about possible exposure in a timely manner so they can take their own precautions.
The CDC says in no uncertain terms not to travel while sick or after testing positive for the coronavirus. This year, the agency has added more than 400 people to a “Do Not Board” list for COVID-19; those on the list will not be issued a boarding pass for any commercial flight in, to or from the United States.
To get a wary public flying again, airlines have highlighted the measures they are taking to keep passengers safe, including mask mandates and a health declaration at check-in. But those rely on honest answers, and — as United said was the case last week — passengers don’t always tell the truth.
Medical experts say airlines’ reliance on passengers to self-report any symptoms of COVID-19 before a flight is a less-than-perfect way to keep infected passengers off planes.
Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up
• Seattle "Jeopardy!" megastar Ken Jennings is back together with James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter — but not on the show that made them famous. This time it's "The Chase," an Americanization of the hit British quiz show.
• Explore local neighborhoods and get your arts fix at the same time with two very creative self-guided tours.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Relief payments will soon be on the way to Americans after President Donald Trump last night signed a pandemic relief package, ending the drama over his refusal to accept a $1.4 trillion government spending bill. This averts a federal shutdown and sends aid flowing toward businesses and individuals (here are the highlights). But unemployment benefits have already lapsed for millions of people, so Washington state is stepping in with a one-time payment for 95,000 residents.
• One of every 17 people in the U.S. has been infected. Yet the worst may lie ahead, health experts say as they predict a surge from Christmas and New Year's gatherings. See the trends in Washington state and know how to understand the numbers.
• For those of you who went outside the bubble for Christmas, here's a short guide to quarantining after holiday trips.
• Travel-starved Americans are itching to hit the road, but when will that feel right — and where will they go? As bookings and online searches provide clues, even Edmonds travel guru Rick Steves says he's playing it safe.
• Could 2021 please just be … precedented? From the "unprecedented" things that happened daily to the covidiots and the Zoom bloopers, the pandemic changed the way we talk and raised interesting questions for word nerds.
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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