Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, Dec. 4, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Health and safety measures aimed at protecting communities against the delta variant should remain as the foundation for fighting the pandemic, World Health Organization officials said Friday. The announcement came as dozens of countries continue to report cases of the mutated omicron variant.

The variant appears to be three times more likely to cause reinfection in a person than the delta and beta variants, an aspect that may shed light on how the variant quickly spread across the globe, according to a preliminary study from South African scientists, which is yet to be peer-reviewed.

Though it’s still not known how much protection current COVID-19 vaccines provide against the new variant, scientists say the vaccines still offer the most protection against severe illness and possible death.

As countries grapple with increased COVID-19 cases and uncertainties over the omicron variant, the outgoing Czech government announced it will issue a vaccine mandate for people 60 and over as well as some professional groups. Though the plan is in motion, it’s still unclear whether the succeeding health minister will enforce the mandate.

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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Omicron variant found in Washington state

Washington state health authorities Saturday confirmed three cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus have been found in Thurston, Pierce and King counties.

The patients, two men and one woman, range in age from 20 to 39, according to the Washington State Department of Health. At least one of the three infected, a King County woman in her 20s, was vaccinated.

In a media briefing Saturday, state health officials said the emergence of the omicron variant is a cause for concern but not panic.

Little is yet known about the severity of illness it causes or about the efficacy of the vaccines against it. However, it is expected to spread much faster than other variants.

While scientists figure that out, which the officials said will take "weeks, not days," they urged the community to adhere to the now standard COVID protection protocols: get vaccinated and get a booster shot when eligible; wear good-quality masks at indoor gatherings and at crowded outdoor venues; wash hands frequently; and stay home and away from others if you have symptoms. 

Read more here.

—Dominic Gates, Seattle Times
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U.S. colleges prepare for unknowns with omicron variant

Officials at U.S. colleges, already bracing for a potential rise in coronavirus cases when students returned to campus after Thanksgiving break, are worried about the impact of the new omicron variant, with its troubling mutations and a host of unknowns.

School leaders are wondering what will happen with the variant over the coming winter break – and how that might affect the spring semester.

For now, most schools are sticking with the virus mitigation rules and strategies they have in place, but ramping up reminders about testing, vaccination and other safety measures. And they are monitoring the situation closely, ready to pivot to more stringent rules if needed when students return after winter break.

Read the story here.

—Susan Svrluga, The Washington Post

Study: Black, Asian Britons have higher COVID-19 death rates

A report commissioned by the U.K. government concluded that almost two years into the pandemic, Black people and members of other racial and ethnic minorities in Britain are still dying with the coronavirus at higher rates than white residents.

The likely cause is thought to be lower vaccination rates among those minority populations.

Read the story here.

—Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

Italian dentist presents fake arm for vaccine to get pass

MILAN — A dentist in Italy faces possible criminal charges after trying to receive a coronavirus vaccine in a fake arm made of silicone. 

A nurse in the northern city of Biella, Filippa Bua, said she could tell right away that something was off when a man presented the phony limb for a shot on Thursday.

“When I uncovered the arm, I felt skin that was cold and gummy, and the color was too light,’’ Bua told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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More omicron detected as hospitals strain under virus surge

New York announced three more cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus Saturday, bringing the number of state cases linked to the new variant to eight. 

“The omicron variant is here, and as anticipated we are seeing the beginning of community spread,” state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a news release.

The number of states finding the variant is growing as well, with authorities in New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Maryland reporting their first confirmed cases Friday, and Missouri reporting its first presumed case.

Read the story here.

—Carolyn Thompson, The Associated Press

Anti-lockdown protesters march through Dutch city of Utrecht

UTRECHT, Netherlands — Thousands of people marched peacefully through the Dutch city of Utrecht on Saturday to protest the government’s coronavirus lockdown measures.

Holding balloons, umbrellas and banners, including ones that said: “It’s not right,” protesters watched by a large police presence moved from a park into the city center without incident. 

Siebke Koopman said he was demonstrating against more than just the Dutch government’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Read the story here.

—Aleksandar Furtula, The Associated Press

Chile reports first case of omicron variant of coronavirus

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile on Saturday reported its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

A foreign national residing in Chile returned from Ghana on Nov. 25 and tested positive in a PCR test at the Santiago airport, according to authorities.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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US drugstores squeezed by vaccine demand, staff shortages

A rush of vaccine-seeking customers and staff shortages are squeezing drugstores around the U.S., leading to frazzled workers and temporary pharmacy closures.

Drugstores are normally busy this time of year with flu shots and other vaccines, but now pharmacists are doling out a growing number of COVID-19 shots and giving coronavirus tests.

The push for shots is expected to grow more intense as President Joe Biden urges vaccinated Americans to get booster shots to combat the emerging omicron variant. 

Read the story here.

—Tom Murphy, The Associated Press

Resurgence in business travel expected as companies tire of Zoom, but omicron variant complicates outlook

Many road warriors’ suitcases and passports have been gathering dust since the COVID-19 pandemic brought business travel to a halt.

That’s not the case at Chicago-based Devbridge, which hosted an all-hands event in Lithuania earlier this year and brought teams from Toronto, London and Lithuania to its Chicago office last month to workshop new products with clients.

Read the story here.

—Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune

Police get complaints over U.K. leader’s festive parties

LONDON — Britain’s opposition Labour Party has raised complaints to police about Christmas parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s staff in his office last year in breach of coronavirus restrictions. 

The reports surfaced as many in the U.K. and elsewhere are increasingly concerned about festive parties and socializing over Christmas this year amid the spread of the new omicron variant.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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COVID kills a leading anti-vaccine televangelist; evangelicals don’t want to talk about it

When famed televangelist Marcus Lamb died this week at 64 after contracting COVID-19, a who’s who of conservative Christian leaders sent out regrets. Evangelist Franklin Graham said Lamb is now “experiencing heaven.” National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference head Samuel Rodriguez called him a “faithful follower of Jesus … with a heart for the lost and broken.”

Absent was a painful truth: Lamb had led his global Christian network, Daystar, for months in spreading inaccurate information about coronavirus vaccines and instead promoting treatments that are not proven remedies. The vaccines, a May segment on Daystar said, falsely, are “killing your immune system.”

Read the story here.

— Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post

Cognitive rehab: One patient’s painstaking path through long COVID-19 therapy

AURORA, Ill. — There is sobering evidence of Samantha Lewis’ struggle with long COVID-19 on her bathroom mirror.

Above the sink, she has posted an index card scrawled with nine steps reminding her how to brush her teeth. It is one of many strategies Lewis, 34, has learned from “cognitive rehab,” an intensive therapy program for COVID-19 survivors whose lives have been upended by problems like brain fog, memory lapses, dizziness and debilitating fatigue.

Read the story here.

—Pam Belluck, The New York Times

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’

BERLIN — Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday made what is likely her final appeal before leaving office next week for Germans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message two days after federal and state leaders decided on a series of measures meant to break a wave of coronavirus infections. 

The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from nonessential stores, restaurants and sports and cultural venues. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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FDA authorizes Eli Lilly antibody treatment for high-risk young children

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody treatment for infants and children under age 12 with COVID-19 who are at high risk of becoming severely ill from the virus because they have a condition such as obesity or diabetes.

Previously, high-risk COVID patients 12 or older had been eligible to get the drugs, which are typically administered intravenously at a clinic or hospital and have been shown to lower the risk of hospitalization and death.

Read the story here.

—Rebecca Robbins, The New York Times

Over 129K WA kids ages 5–11 receive first COVID vaccine dose

OLYMPIA — More than 129,000 children ages 5 through 11 in Washington state have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine since eligibility expanded to include younger kids on Nov. 3, health officials said this week. 

“While COVID-19 is often milder in children than adults, children can still get very sick and spread the disease to family and friends, which is an even bigger concern as people gather this holiday season,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said Thursday. “As a father, knowing our children are vaccinated helps me breathe a sigh of relief.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

UW men’s basketball game vs. No. 5 UCLA canceled due to COVID-19

The Washington men’s basketball team will suffer its first Pac-12 defeat due to COVID-19 developments within the program.

The Huskies are unable to host No. 5-ranked UCLA on Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena and will forfeit the game in accordance to Pac-12 guidelines.

Washington has seven players and coaches in COVID-19 protocols, according to a Los Angeles Times report that cited an anonymous source.

Read the story here.

—Percy Allen
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So far, Washington workers pushed out over vaccine mandates aren’t losing jobless benefits

In August, when Gov. Jay Inslee ordered state employees, health care workers and others to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18, officials issued a stern warning: If you quit or get fired for refusing a jab, don’t expect unemployment benefits. 

But nearly two months after the vaccination deadline, it’s unclear just how much vaccine-hesitant workers have to worry about. 

Although thousands of workers in Washington likely have quit or been fired over government and private vaccine mandates — including nearly 2,000 state employees as of Nov. 15, according to state data — just 26 mandate-related claims for jobless benefits had been flagged for review by the state Employment Security Department as of Friday. Although the review process isn’t complete, ESD officials don’t believe that any of those claims have been denied.

Read the story here.

—Paul Roberts