Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, December 3, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 South African scientist who detected the omicron variant, known to be present in at least 23 countries, believes the mutated virus most likely developed in the body of a person with an immune system damaged by HIV. Immune-compromising conditions such as HIV often lead to prolonged coronavirus infections, increasing the probability of mutations.

Researchers in the U.S. and elsewhere have seen COVID-19 mutations arise in patients whose immune systems have been affected by drugs aimed at fighting cancer or managing autoimmune disorders.

One omicron case was confirmed in California, five in New York, and one each in Hawaii, Colorado and Minnesota, suggesting the variant is already spreading.

As the threat of omicron variant outbreaks looms, U.S. health officials are still trying to contain the delta variant, which has sent patients to hospitals in record numbers all across the Midwest and New England.

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.

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Amtrak prepares for possible service cuts as employee vaccination deadline nears

Amtrak could be forced to reduce train service after the end-of-the-year travel crunch because some workers have not complied with a mandate to be fully vaccinated in January.

About 6% of the railroad’s workforce could be fired for failure to show proof of vaccination by a Jan. 4 deadline, according to an internal company memo and interviews with labor and industry leaders.

The terminations could harm Amtrak’s recovery from the pandemic slump after recent progress in restoring service and rebuilding ridership that plummeted by 97%. It could also exacerbate staffing problems amid a national worker shortage that Amtrak leaders say has hampered the railroad’s ability to return to pre-pandemic schedules.

Any service reductions – which would come weeks after Congress approved $66 billion in new investment for rail – could dampen Amtrak’s momentum, observers say, noting that it could hurt rider confidence in the system and ignite new scrutiny among congressional leaders.

Read the full story here.

—Luz Lazo, The Washington Post
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Thousands of Air Guard, Reserves don’t meet vaccine deadline

More than 6% of the Air National Guard and Reserve did not meet the deadline to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and could begin to face consequences if they don’t get the mandated shots or receive an exemption, the Air Force said Friday.

Air Guard members who report for their monthly drill this weekend will be allowed to participate and will be paid — whether they are vaccinated or not, but those without shots will have the opportunity to get the vaccine when they report to their base, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.

The Air Force said roughly 11,000 troops did not get the vaccine by the deadline Thursday. There are about 107,000 Air Guard members and 68,000 in the Reserves, and about 3,500 of the unvaccinated have received medical or administrative exemptions. The unvaccinated total, however, could be a bit lower than the data show so far. Officials have cautioned that the information for the Guard and Reserves may lag, as some of the citizen airmen could have gotten shots at local pharmacies and have not yet filed their data with the service.

Read the full story here.

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

Contact tracing revs up in some states as omicron reaches US

The arrival of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the U.S. has health officials in some communities reviving contact tracing operations in an attempt to slow and better understand its spread as scientists study how contagious it is and whether it can thwart vaccines.

In New York City, officials quickly reached out to a man who tested positive for the variant and had attended an anime conference at a Manhattan convention center last month along with more than 50,000 people. Five other attendees have also been infected with the coronavirus, though officials don’t yet know whether it was with the omicron variant.

“As for what we learned about this conference at the Javits Center and these additional cases, our test and trace team is out there immediately working with each individual who was affected to figure out who else they came in contact with. That contact tracing is absolutely crucial,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Once a global epicenter of the pandemic, New York has the country’s biggest contract tracing effort. The city identified four omicron cases Thursday, and a fifth was discovered in nearby Suffolk County on eastern Long Island.

Read the full story here.

—Heather Hollingsworth and Bobby Caina Calvan The Associated Press

Brazil’s Bolsonaro investigated for linking vaccine and AIDS

A justice of Brazil’s top court ordered on Friday that President Jair Bolsonaro be investigated for comments linking COVID-19 vaccines to AIDS — an assertion rejected by doctors and scientists.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes instructed the country’s top prosecutor, Augusto Aras, to look into the accusation raised by a pandemic inquiry conducted by Brazil’s Senate.

Bolsonaro said in an Oct. 24 broadcast that “official reports from the U.K. government suggest that fully vaccinated people … are developing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome much faster than anticipated.” Facebook and Instagram took down that video days later, saying it violates their rules.

The Brazilian president, who remains unvaccinated and has frequently pushed against vaccine mandates, argued he was merely quoting an article in the magazine Exame and not making assertions.

Read the full story here.

— Débora Alvares, The Associated Press
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Outgoing Czech government to order vaccine mandate for 60+

The outgoing Czech government is planning to order a vaccine mandate for people aged 60 and over and for some professional groups, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said on Friday. But it’s unclear whether the measure will be enforced by his successor.

Vojtech said his ministry will issue the order next week making vaccination mandatory for the 60 plus age group, as well as medical personnel, police officers, firefighters and medical students.

But Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ current administration will be soon replaced and the new coalition and health minister oppose a vaccination mandate for the elderly and can cancel it as soon as it takes power.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials confirm 2,044 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,044 new coronavirus cases and 33 new deaths on Friday.

The update brings the state's totals to 780,835 cases and 9,413 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. Thursday.

In addition, 43,188 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 174,326 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,086 deaths.

Friday's total state hospitalizations include 29 fewer than reported Thursday, due to data systems improvement that caught duplicate hospitalizations, according to DOH.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 10,876,515 doses and 61.7% 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 25,825 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.

National Guard chief gets COVID-19 after overseas trip

The chief of the National Guard has tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from an overseas trip to visit guard troops in Europe for Thanksgiving.

Gen. Dan Hokanson, who is fully vaccinated, tested negative while he was abroad, but tested positive when he returned to the U.S. Officials said he started having symptoms of a bad cold after he got the positive test result and that he was sick for about two days.

Poland has a vaccination rate of just 54%, and reported more than 29,000 new infections earlier this week, the highest infection rate since a virus wave made central Europe a global hot spot for COVID.

Read the story here.

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
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Russia registers record for virus-linked deaths in October

Russia’s state statistics agency says that 74,893 people with COVID-19 died in October — the highest monthly tally in the pandemic that comes as the country grappling with a major surge of coronavirus infections and deaths.

A report by Rosstat on Friday brought the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 to over 537,000 — almost twice the widely-cited toll reported by Russia’s state coronavirus task force to date. Rosstat uses broader criteria in its tallying system than the task force.

According to the report, out of nearly 75,000 deaths in October, 58,822 were directly caused by confirmed COVID-19; 9,912 other deaths were likely caused by the virus, but it wasn’t confirmed by a test. In 1,141 cases, the virus “significantly” contributed to fatal complications of other diseases, and 5,018 people tested positive for the virus but died of other causes.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who also heads the task force, said Friday that Russia’s overall mortality grew by 20.3% in October this year, compared to the same period in 2020, and ascribed all of the growth to COVID-19.

Russia in recent months has faced its deadliest and largest surge of coronavirus cases, with officially reported infections and deaths regularly hitting all-time highs and only slowing in the past couple of weeks.

Read the story here.

—Dasha Litvinova, The Associated Press

Israel confirms 7 cases of omicron, 27 others suspected

Israel’s Health Ministry said Friday it has confirmed seven cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, stoking fears of a pending surge in infections. Four of the confirmed cases are unvaccinated individuals who had recently returned from South Africa.

The other three include two people who returned from South Africa and from Britain and who had received two doses and a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The third person returned from Malawi and had been inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Israel was one of the first countries to close its borders to all non-Israeli citizens following the discovery of the first case of the omicron variant last week. Israelis from abroad are allowed to return home.

The ministry said it has a “high suspicion” that another 27 identified cases of the coronavirus are also the new variant.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Belgian zoo says its 2 very runny-nosed hippos have COVID-19

A Belgian zoo said Friday that a pair of hippopotamuses in its care are in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, possibly the first time ever such animals have caught the disease.

Belgium’s national veterinary lab has confirmed that Antwerp Zoo’s two hippos — Imani, aged 14, and 41-year-old Hermien — contracted COVID-19. It’s unclear how they caught it. Both the giant semiaquatic herbivores are well, apart from exceptionally runny noses. Keepers have tightened virus restrictions around the zoo.

“To my knowledge, it’s the first recorded contamination among this species. Throughout the world this virus has mostly been seen in great apes and felines,” Antwerp Zoo vet Francis Vercammen said.

How the hippos got the disease remains a mystery. All the zoo’s animals were tested for COVID-19 last year and no case was found. Hippos noses normally tend to be wet, but Vercammen said he decided to test the thick liquid coming out as a precaution, and was surprised by the result.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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What COVID omicron variant means for your holiday travel

Since the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus was dubbed “a variant of concern” just after Thanksgiving, a number of countries around the world began imposing new travel restrictions in response to its spread. And, while not much is known about it yet, leaders have called for calm as we wait to learn more.

“Do not get hysterical. That is not warranted. We just don’t know enough,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently said. “Folks, I would say: Accept that there’s going to be an uncomfortable period of time here where it’s still delta driving cases … and we’re going to have to allow the research” on the new variant to be done.

But the 2021 holiday travel season is underway, and if you’re looking to take a winter getaway or go see family and friends for the holidays, you may be wondering how this will all affect you. After all, when the delta variant emerged earlier in 2021, some countries imposed stricter travel requirements, and many people — as many as 66% of respondents in one survey — delayed travel plans due to the variant.

So, when it comes to travel this holiday season, will the omicron variant have an impact? And should you cancel your plans right now?

Read the story here.

—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Which booster shot is best? Study of 7 COVID vaccines pinpoints the effects of each

Most vaccines are safe to use as boosters and give people more immunity against the coronavirus, according to a new study of seven different shots.

The mRNA vaccines by pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna appeared to give the highest boost of antibodies after 28 days of the extra dose, though other vaccines in the study may take more time to build up better immunity.

After the United States greenlit “mix-and-match” boosters, the Biden administration is now encouraging more people to get extra doses as scientists race to understand the newly-identified omicron variant which spurred many countries to tighten restrictions.

The new research on safety and immune response, published Thursday in British journal the Lancet, looks at how to “optimize selection of booster vaccines” by examining people who initially took two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot. The United States has not authorized the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

The inoculated participants got a range of boosters, including the experimental shot from the company CureVac that was pulled after less effective results. The others included Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech, as well as the Novavax and Valneva vaccines which are under review in Europe.

Almost all the vaccines in the study bolstered those responses regardless of the initial doses, it said. One exception was the combination of an extra dose from Valneva in people who had first received Pfizer shots, which did not meet benchmarks for a “clinically important difference.”

All seven vaccines appeared to offer more immunity after two AstraZeneca doses and six were effective after two Pfizer shots “with no safety concerns” though with varying results, according to the researchers.

Read the story here.

—Hannah Knowles and Ellen Francis, The Washington Post

Malaysia detects first omicron case in South African student

Malaysia said Friday it has detected its first case of the new omicron strain of the coronavirus in a foreign student who returned to the country last month after visiting her family in South Africa.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the 19-year-old female transited in Singapore and arrived in Malaysia on Nov. 19, where she underwent a COVID-19 test upon arrival. Results the next day confirmed the student was positive for COVID-19, he said.

Khairy noted that the student arrived in Malaysia before South Africa reported its first omicron case to the World Health Organization.

“What is important is the individual fully complied with home quarantine… is fully vaccinated and was asymptomatic. We have done both automated and manual contact tracing and so far this case is contained,” Khairy tweeted.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Sri Lanka reports 1st omicron case in returnee from Nigeria

Sri Lanka announced Friday it has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in an unvaccinated person who returned from Nigeria.

Health ministry spokesperson Dr. Hemantha Herath said the 25-year-old Sri Lankan woman returned on Nov. 24, four days before the government banned travelers from six African countries.

He said she was tested at the airport because she was unvaccinated, and the result was positive.

In a bid to prevent the omicron variant from entering the country, Sri Lanka has since banned travelers who visited South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland starting Sunday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Omicron-stricken South Africa may be glimpse into the future

Dr. Sikhulile Moyo was analyzing COVID-19 samples in his lab in Botswana last week when he noticed they looked startlingly different from others. Within days, the world was ablaze with the news that the coronavirus had a new variant of concern, which appears to be driving a dramatic surge in South Africa, providing a glimpse of where the pandemic might be headed.

New cases in South Africa have burgeoned from about 200 a day in mid-November to more than 11,500 on Thursday. In the week since omicron was discovered to be present in the country’s most populous province, Gauteng, infections have surged 300%, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said Friday.

Little is known about the new variant, but the spike in South Africa suggests it might be more contagious, said Moyo, the scientist who may have been the first to identify the new variant, though researchers in neighboring South Africa were close on his heels. Omicron has more than 50 mutations — and scientists have called it a big jump in the evolution of the virus.

South Africa’s hospitals are so far coping with the new surge and Moyo expressed hope that vaccines would not be sidelined by the new variant.

“I have a lot of hope from the data that we see, that those vaccinated should be able to have a lot of protection,” he said.

Read the story here.

—Andrew Meldrum, The Associated Press

Omicron COVID variant 3 times more likely to cause reinfection than delta, South Africa study says

Scientists in South Africa say omicron is at least three times more likely to cause reinfection than previous variants such as beta and delta, according to a preliminary study published Thursday.

Statistical analysis of some 2.8 million positive coronavirus samples in South Africa, 35,670 of which were suspected to be reinfections, led researchers to conclude that the omicron mutation has a “substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection.”

Scientists say reinfection provides a partial explanation for how the new variant has been spreading. The elevated risk of being reinfected is “temporally consistent” with the emergence of the omicron variant in South Africa, the researchers found.

The team’s paper was uploaded to a preprint server and has not been peer-reviewed.

Questions about the level of protection vaccines provide against the new variant remain unanswered, as the scientists did not have access to immunization data. But Juliet Pulliam, a South Africa-based epidemiologist and one of the study’s authors, said vaccines are likely to still offer the most effective protection against severe disease and death.

Read the story here.

—Amy Cheng, The Washington Post
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Biden, allies increasingly pushing back at GOP’s virus barbs

President Joe Biden looked out over an audience of government scientists and framed his latest plan for fighting COVID-19 as an opportunity to at last put an end to divisiveness over the virus, calling the politicization of the issue a “sad, sad commentary.”

And then he tacked on a political dig.

Some people “on the other team,” he said Thursday, were threatening to hold up government spending and endangering the nation’s credit out of pique over vaccination requirements.

“Go figure,” he added.

It was a quick aside in a Biden speech that otherwise struck a largely bipartisan tone. But it served as fresh evidence that after taking it on the chin for months, Biden and his allies are increasingly willing to hit back, casting Republicans as the true obstacle to the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

WHO says measures used against delta should work for omicron

Measures used to counter the delta variant should remain the foundation for fighting the coronavirus pandemic, even in the face of the new omicron version of the virus, World Health Organization officials said Friday, while acknowledging that the travel restrictions imposed by some countries may buy time.

While about three dozen countries worldwide have reported omicron infections, including India on Thursday, the numbers so far are small outside of South Africa, which is facing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and where the new variant may be becoming dominant.

Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said, “The positive news in all of this is that none of the information we have currently about omicron suggests we need to change the directions of our response.”

That means continuing to push for higher vaccination rates, abiding by social-distancing guidelines, and wearing masks, among other measures, said WHO Regional Emergency Director Dr. Babatunde Olowokure.

Read the story here.

—Jim Gomez, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

What the omicron variant means for your holiday travel: Experts are flailing around with their own trip plans, trying to figure this out amid many unknowns. But what you can control, they say, is your strategy for minimizing risk. Here are the current rules, recommendations and what to watch for. Plus, travel advisers are explaining how to protect your trip — and your wallet.

What a Seattle coronavirus expert thinks about omicron: Fred Hutch biologist Trevor Bedford detected the coronavirus' initial outbreak in the Seattle area last year. Now he's answered our questions about how omicron mutated, what it may mean for the pandemic's future, and what he's eager to find out about it.

Omicron has been detected in multiple U.S. states spread far apart, and it's been found on six continents. A past coronavirus infection appears to provide little immunity against it, potentially tearing away a layer of defense that humanity has won at immense cost. But the new variant is still a spark on the horizon, and what we need to battle hardest is "the fire that's here today," U.S. health officials say.

The UW men's basketball program has reportedly been hit by seven positive COVID-19 tests. Last night's Pac-12 opener was delayed, and Sunday's game against UCLA is a big question mark.

A cheery grocery ad with a vaccinated Santa has sparked a storm.

—Kris Higginson