Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, December 30, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 head of the World Health Organization expressed concerns over a potential “tsunami” of cases brought on by recent surges in both delta and omicron. COVID-19 cases across the globe increased by 11% last week from the previous week.
Amid this spike, U.S. public health experts and officials are urging people to forego New Year’s Eve celebrations and stay home. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said a small gathering with vaccinated family members would be the safest way to celebrate ushering in the new year.
Meanwhile, several states have reported about a 50% increase in pediatric hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in December. While experts urge caution to minimize the spread of the virus, they said they did not find evidence that omicron is more threatening to children.
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.
Quebec reimposing nightly curfew for pandemic as cases rise
Quebec announced Thursday it will reimpose a nighttime curfew beginning New Year’s Eve, and Ontario delayed the resumption of school by two days as several Canadian provinces reported new highs for coronavirus infections.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the curfew will be in effect 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. as of Friday night and will run for an indefinite period.
“It’s an extreme action to take because the situation is extreme,” Legault said.
Quebec imposed a nightly curfew for the pandemic last Jan. 9 and did not lift the measure until May 28. It has been the only Canadian province to order a curfew over the coronavirus.
Virus delays UN nuclear treaty meeting, possibly til August
A coronavirus surge has upended plans to hold a major nuclear treaty conference at the United Nations, with participants agreeing Thursday to postpone the meeting just days before its scheduled start.
After nearly two years of pandemic delays, delegations from around the world had been scheduled due to converge on U.N. headquarters Tuesday to take stock of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, a pillar of nuclear arms control.
But organizers are now penciling in an Aug. 1 start date for the already long-delayed conference, according to an email Thursday from the U.N. disarmament office to entities involved.
An inquiry was sent Thursday evening to the conference’s leader, Gustavo Zlauvinen.
Cut! Popcorn, candy ban hits French cinemas’ virus recovery
No more munching, crunching and slurping at the movies in France: The country’s increasingly fraught fight against an unprecedented surge in coronavirus infections is putting a stop to eating and drinking at French cinemas, just as they are show signs of recovering from the brutal economic bashing of lockdowns last year.
COVID-19 measures kicking in Monday, once France’s New Year’s celebrations are out of the way, will mean an enforced rest for popcorn machines and ice creams left in cold storage. The ban of at least three weeks on eating and drinking also applies to theaters, sports venues and public transport.
For cinema owners hoping to lure back movie fans who switched to home-viewing during the pandemic, not being able to tempt them with candies and soft drinks is another blow. Ticket sales are still down 55% compared to before the pandemic, the National Center for Film and Moving Images said Thursday in its look at French cinemas’ annual sales.
Johnson & Johnson booster slashed hospitalizations during omicron wave by 85%, South Africa study suggests
The Johnson & Johnson booster could play a key role in cutting coronavirus hospitalizations, according to preliminary results from a South African study that reviewed over 69,000 health-care workers who received a second dose.
The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, looked at hospital admissions from mid-November to mid-December, as the country experienced a wave of omicron infections, and compared the boosted health-care workers with people who had not been vaccinated. It found that the booster was about 85 percent effective in preventing hospital admissions from COVID-19, one to two months after the second dose.
In a statement shared Thursday, Johnson & Johnson said that the preliminary findings demonstrated the booster’s effectiveness in the face of a highly transmissible omicron variant of the virus, which is now dominant in South Africa.
Nicholas Crisp, deputy director general of the South African National Department of Health, said in the statement that he hoped the data would “reassure healthcare workers who have not taken their booster to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
‘The era of stuffing people into offices like sardines is over’: Costs rise as workers return to airier, cleaner offices
The cost of office maintenance dropped significantly in the pandemic when workers went remote and companies saved money on services like cleaning and security, as well as perks like dry cleaning and endless pantry snacks.
But as employees begin to head back to the office, the cost of running the workplace is increasing.
By December, about 40% of workers had returned at least part time, although the omicron variant of the coronavirus has put a chill on return-to-office plans. And developers still expect that employees will be back on-site in the long run, even if hybrid work becomes more common.
More robust air filtration and newly installed outdoor spaces are among the items that will add to developers’ costs when more employees return.
The cost to run the office today remains lower than pre-pandemic levels, but not as significantly as many managers expected, said Kristin Mueller, chief operating officer for property management at JLL, a real estate services company that oversees more than 1,000 office buildings across the United States.
State health officials report record of daily coronavirus cases at 6,888
Health officials also reported 14 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 849,075 cases and 9,853 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. Wednesday.
In addition, 45,381 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 139 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 199,907 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,142 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,871,056 doses and 62.7% 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 38,684 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.
Federal court denies Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s attempt to stop military vaccine mandate
A federal court on Tuesday denied a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt that challenged the Pentagon’s military-wide coronavirus vaccination mandate by asking that the requirement be suspended for his state’s National Guard members.
Judge Stephen P. Friot sided with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has said the mandate is needed to maintain a healthy force that is ready to act quickly. Friot also disagreed with Stitt’s assertion that the Pentagon was overstepping its constitutional authority, noting that Guard members are already required to receive nine immunizations.
“Adding a tenth … vaccine to the list of nine that all service members are already required to take would hardly amount to ‘an enormous and transformative expansion [of the] regulatory authority’ the Secretary of Defense already possesses,” he wrote in his ruling.
The ruling boosts the legal standing of the military vaccine mandate as the Biden administration struggles to increase vaccination rates among Americans.
As omicron spreads, officials ponder what it means to be ‘fully vaccinated’
Goldman Sachs and Jeffries, the investment banks, are demanding that employees get booster shots. The University of Oregon and other institutions are requiring that students and staff members get boosters. New York state has said it plans to stop considering residents fully vaccinated unless they have gotten the shots.
As the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads from coast to coast, corporations, schools, governments and even sports leagues are reconsidering what it means to be “fully vaccinated.”
Now federal health officials, too, have taken on the question. Although top policymakers want to encourage Americans to get three doses, some would like to avoid changing the definition of a phrase that has become pivotal to daily life in much of the country, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that she and other health officials were “working through that question” now.
“There really isn’t debate here in what people should do,” she added. “CDC is crystal clear on what people should do: If they’re eligible for a boost, they should get boosted.”
J&J’s booster provides strong protection against severe disease from omicron, study says
A Johnson & Johnson booster shot provided strong protection against the omicron variant, greatly reducing the risk of hospitalization, according to a clinical trial in South Africa.
The study, which compared more than 69,000 boosted health care workers with a corresponding group of unvaccinated South Africans, found that two shots of the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization from omicron by about 85%. In comparison, another study in South Africa found that two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by about 70%.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a booster shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that other vaccines be preferred. The CDC raised concerns about rare but life-threatening blood clots that have been linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
But the authors of the new study, which was published on a preprint server and has not yet been peer-reviewed, said that the results were important for vaccination efforts in Africa, where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a mainstay of COVID public health efforts. As the continent braces for a wave of Omicron cases, a second dose of the vaccine could prevent a surge of hospitalizations.
COVID spread on 89 ‘petri dish’ cruise ships, prompting CDC investigation
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection identified 89 cruise ships with coronavirus cases Tuesday, nearly all of which have met the threshold for a formal investigation.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., urged cruise companies and health agencies to stop ships from sailing, saying they are “repeating recent history as petri dishes of COVID-19 infection.” Operators such as Carnival, which owns Seattle-headquartered Holland America Line, have implemented safeguards including mandatory masking and proof of vaccination. Still, the fast-spreading omicron variant has triggered an increasing number of infections and reports of ships being turned away at ports.
“Time for CDC & cruise lines to protect consumers & again pause — docking their ships,” Blumenthal said in a tweet.
Roger Frizzell, a spokesperson for Carnival, said in an email that “our health and safety protocols put in place have proven to be effective time and time again over the past year with our sailings being restarted across each of our brands.”
Chinese officials promise groceries for lockdown residents
Chinese officials promised steady deliveries of groceries to residents of Xi’an, an ancient capital with 13 million people that is under the strictest lockdown of a major Chinese city since Wuhan was shut early last year at the start of the pandemic.
China’s Commerce Ministry has contacted nearby provinces to help ensure adequate supplies of everyday necessities, a ministry spokesperson said Thursday.
State broadcaster CCTV aired a story Thursday showing building staff assembling free grocery deliveries for the residents of an apartment complex in Xi’an.
The deliveries included a box of 15 eggs, a 2.5-kilogram (5.5-pound) bag of rice and some green vegetables. Residents could also expect either some chicken or pork, it said.
This week, authorities tightened restrictions in Xi’an so that people can no longer leave their homes to buy groceries. Previously, residents were allowed to buy food once every two days. The city is also sealed off, meaning that people cannot leave without special permission.
CDC warns against cruising, even if vaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that all travelers — even those who are vaccinated — should avoid cruises.
In a statement, the agency said cruise lines reported 5,013 COVID-19 cases on ships operating in U.S. waters between Dec. 15 and 29, a massive increase from the 162 cases reported over the prior two weeks. The CDC escalated the travel health notice for cruising from level 3 to 4, its highest. Previously, the advice was that people who were not fully vaccinated or those at increased risk of severe illness should not cruise.
“This reflects increases in cases onboard cruise ships since identification of the Omicron variant,” the CDC said.
The update comes as 91 ships carrying passengers from U.S. waters have reported cases over the past seven days and met the threshold for CDC investigation.
COVID-19 positivity rate soars near 50% at some Seattle-area testing sites, straining capacity
UW Medicine will soon start limiting its COVID-19 testing appointments to include only those with symptoms or known exposures because of an “astronomically high” positivity rate that’s slowing the testing process, the health care system announced Thursday.
Of UW Medicine’s 12 community testing sites, nine will soon start limiting appointments. Three, however, including in Ballard, and at Seattle City Hall and Lake Sammamish State Park, will close temporarily.
The high positivity rate — measuring more than 40% at some South King County testing sites — is creating a challenge in UW Medicine’s testing process and slowing scientists’ ability to parse out which samples are actually positive, Dr. Geoff Baird, chair of laboratory medicine and pathology at UW Medicine, said in a news briefing Thursday morning.
Russia sets another monthly record for virus-linked death
More than 87,500 people with COVID-19 died in Russia in November, the highest montly tally since the start of the pandemic, the state statistics agency reported Thursday.
A report by Rosstat brought the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 to nearly 626,000 — more than twice the widely-cited toll reported by Russia’s state coronavirus task force to date. Rosstat uses broader criteria in its tallying system compared to the task force.
According to the Rosstat report, 71,187 deaths were caused directly by confirmed COVID-19, 8,939 deaths were likely caused by the virus but it wasn’t confirmed by a test, in 1,477 cases the virus significantly exacerbated fatal complications of other diseases and 5,924 people tested positive for the virus but died of other causes.
The surge came amid low vaccination rates and poor compliance with coronavirus restrictions. Just 51% of Russia’s nearly 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, even though the country approved a domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine — Sputnik V — months before most of the world.
Feds press nursing home COVID boosters as staff cases spike
Federal health officials on Thursday pressed nursing home workers to get their booster shots amid a spike in COVID-19 cases among staffers and a concerning lag in booster vaccination for residents and staff.
Nursing homes are a testing ground for President Joe Biden’s assertion that the U.S. is much better prepared to handle a surging virus than it was last winter. Although residents are a tiny proportion of the population, they represent a disproportionate share of Americans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.
Cases among nursing home staffers jumped to 10,353 the week ending Dec. 27, a rise of nearly 80% from the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staff deaths increased to 58, tripling from the previous week. Among residents, who are more heavily vaccinated, cases went up slightly and the data showed no increase in deaths.
1,000 flights canceled Thursday as airlines struggle to recover from omicron, weather disruption
Elevated numbers of flight cancellations stretched into another day Thursday, as carriers continued their scramble to get travelers to their destinations amid a coronavirus spike that has led to staffing shortages and weather that has slowed operations — and in some cases left crews stuck in the wrong cities.
As of Thursday morning, more than 1,000 flights within, into and out of the United States had been canceled for the day, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. If airline operations follow the pattern of recent days, the number is likely to grow. According to FlightAware, 540 flights scheduled for Friday already have been canceled.
The first signs of trouble emerged just before Christmas when airlines, citing staffing issues resulting from the more easily transmissible omicron variant, began preemptively canceling flights. Through the holiday, the number of cancellations multiplied. On Christmas Eve, about 613 flights were canceled, according to FlightAware. The day after Christmas, the number had ballooned to more than 1,400. In the past week, airlines have canceled nearly 8,000 flights.
US children hospitalized with COVID in near-record numbers
The omicron-fueled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases rocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in close to record numbers, and experts lament that most of the youngsters are not vaccinated.
“It’s just so heartbreaking,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It was hard enough last year, but now you know that you have a way to prevent all this.”
During the week of Dec. 21-27, an average of 334 children 17 and under were admitted per day to hospitals with the coronavirus, a 58% increase from the week before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The previous peak over the course of the pandemic was in early September, when child hospitalizations averaged 342 per day, the CDC said.
Times Square show will go on despite virus surge, mayor says
New York City will ring in 2022 in Times Square as planned despite record numbers of COVID-19 infections in the city and around the nation, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
“We want to show that we’re moving forward, and we want to show the world that New York City is fighting our way through this,” de Blasio, whose last day in office is Friday, said on NBC’s “Today” show.
After banning revelers from Times Square a year ago due to the pandemic, city officials previously announced plans for a scaled-back New Year’s bash with smaller crowds and vaccinations required.
While cities such as Atlanta have canceled New Year’s Eve celebrations, de Blasio said New York City’s high COVID-19 vaccination rate makes it feasible to welcome masked, socially distanced crowds to watch the ball drop in Times Square. “We’ve got to send a message to the world. New York City is open,” he said.
Virus postpones Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show
COVID’s spreading on cruises again: This time, they plan to keep sailing
The cruise industry thought it had adapted to COVID-19. After emerging from a 15-month shutdown with a slew of new regulations approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ships got back on the water in late June. Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said in a December earnings call that the company had established “effective” protocols for the 65,000 workers and 50 ships back in operation.
Now, though, the omicron variant of the coronavirus has changed the climate. Through Tuesday, 86 cruise ships carrying passengers in U.S. waters were reporting coronavirus cases onboard, the most since the comeback, according to CDC tracking data. (The CDC updated that count on Wednesday to 88 ships under investigation or observation.)
Over the past week of holiday travel, stories of outbreaks, customers isolating in their cabins and ports turning away ships evoked the conditions that brought cruising to a halt in March 2020, albeit without the severe cases or deaths that marked the first wave of the pandemic. Cruise lines have imposed stricter measures since the omicron variant’s discovery, and no industrywide pause appears to be in sight.
When reached by The Washington Post this week, the CDC said it plans to allow its Conditional Sailing Order to expire as planned on Jan. 15. At that point, the restrictions imposed for pandemic-era cruising will become recommendations.
Low-vaccinated Eastern Europe braces for omicron surge
As the fast-spreading coronavirus variant omicron rages through Western Europe, officials and experts in low-vaccinated Eastern Europe anticipate a post-holiday explosion of COVID-19 cases in much of the region.
Many countries in Eastern Europe only recently emerged from infection waves that put a catastrophic strain on health care systems, and at times have tallied some of the highest pandemic death rates globally.
Now, with omicron already confirmed across the region and the winter holidays bringing more community gatherings and international travel, public health officials are predicting a sharp virus surge in the coming weeks.
Adriana Pistol, director of Romania’s National Center for Surveillance and Control of Communicable Diseases, warned Wednesday that the country could see a peak of 25,000 new daily cases during the expected next wave. Romania is the European Union’s second-least vaccinated member nation.
WHO chief worried about ‘tsunami’ of omicron, delta cases
The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday that he’s worried about the omicron and delta variants of COVID-19 producing a “tsunami” of cases between them, but he’s still hopeful that the world will put the worst of the pandemic behind it in 2022.
Two years after the coronavirus first emerged, top officials with the U.N. health agency cautioned that it’s still too early to be reassured by initial data suggesting that omicron, the latest variant, leads to milder disease. First reported last month in southern Africa, it is already the dominant variant in the United States and parts of Europe.
And after 92 of the WHO’s 194 member countries missed a target to vaccinate 40% of their populations by the end of this year, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged everyone to make a “new year’s resolution” to get behind a campaign to vaccinate 70% of countries’ populations by the beginning of July.
According to WHO’s figures, the number of COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide increased by 11% last week compared with the previous week, with nearly 4.99 million newly reported from Dec. 20-26.
U.S. reports 488,000 new daily coronavirus cases, shattering record
With a caseload nearly twice that of the worst days last winter, the United States shattered its record for new daily coronavirus cases, a milestone that may not adequately illustrate the rapid spread of the delta and omicron variants because testing has slowed over the holidays.
As a second year of living with the pandemic was drawing to a close, the new daily case total topped 488,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. (The total was higher Monday, but that number should not be considered a record because it included data from the long holiday weekend.)
Wednesday’s seven-day average of new daily cases, 301,000, was also a record, compared with 267,000 the day before, according to the database. In the past week, more than 2 million cases have been reported nationally, and 15 states and territories reported more cases than in any other seven-day period.
6 provinces in Canada report new daily highs for coronavirus
Coronavirus infections set new one-day highs in six Canadian provinces Wednesday, prompting several provinces to impose more restrictions in hopes of containing the spread of the omicron variant.
The biggest jumps were in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, which are the country’s most populous provinces. Quebec reported more than 13,000 new cases in the previous 24 hours, Ontario had 10,436 and British Columbia listed 2,944.
Manitoba, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador also set new records. Manitoba reported 947 new infections, which broke the previous high of 825 set just a day earlier. Alberta said it had 2,775 and Newfoundland and Labrador reported 312.
Catch up on the last 24 hours
As the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads from coast to coast, corporations, schools, governments and even sports leagues are reconsidering what it means to be “fully vaccinated.”
People who thought they knew how to avoid COVID are getting a rude surprise. Safety precautions that had for so long felt talismanic ― get vaccinated, mask up, avoid large indoor gatherings — have in the past week or two collapsed under the weight of omicron. But it's not that these people have failed, said Robert Frenck, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Research Center at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “Vaccines are going to stop people from being hospitalized and from ending up in the ICU and from dying,” he said.
Alaska Air and Delta Air Lines have updated their policies for workers who get sick with the coronavirus, soon after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened its recommended isolation period for Americans infected with COVID-19.
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