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 It is no longer being updated.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

President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday that, in an effort to battle yet another wave of the coronavirus pandemic, he’s planning to ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts in office.

States are continuing to work on plans for who they’ll prioritize when the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine become available, as U.S. deaths from the outbreak eclipsed 3,100 in a single day. While states hammer out their plans, three former presidents — Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — have indicated they’d be willing to take a vaccine publicly to encourage other Americans to follow suit.

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 the state.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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COVID-19 relief: What’s on the table as Congress seeks deal

WASHINGTON — After numerous fits and starts and months of inaction, optimism is finally building in Washington for a COVID-19 aid bill that would offer relief for businesses, the unemployed, schools, and health care providers, among others struggling as caseloads are spiking.

Under pressure from moderates in both parties, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have initiated late-game negotiations in hopes of combining a relief package of, in all likelihood, less than $1 trillion with a separate $1.4 trillion governmentwide omnibus spending bill. The duo were the architects of the $1.8 trillion CARES Act, the landmark relief bill passed in March.

Success is not certain and considerable differences remain over items such as aid to states and local governments, liability protections for businesses and universities reopening during the pandemic, and whether to issue a second round of $1,200 direct payments to most Americans.

But renewing soon-to-expire jobless benefits, providing a second round of “paycheck protection” subsidies, and funding to distribute vaccines are sure bets to be included in any deal.

—Associated Press
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UN health chief: World can start dreaming of pandemic’s end

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. health chief declared Friday that positive results from coronavirus vaccine trials mean the world “can begin to dream about the end of the pandemic,” but he said rich and powerful nations must not trample the poor and marginalized “in the stampede for vaccines.”

In an address to the U.N. General Assembly’s first high-level session on the pandemic, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that while the virus can be stopped, “the path ahead remains treacherous.”

The pandemic has shown humanity at “its best and worst,” he said, pointing to “inspiring acts of compassion and self-sacrifice, breathtaking feats of science and innovation, and heartwarming demonstrations of solidarity, but also disturbing signs of self-interest, blame-shifting and divisions.”

Referring to the current upsurge in infections and deaths, Tedros said without naming any countries that “where science is drowned out by conspiracy theories, where solidarity is undermined by division, where sacrifice is substituted with self interest, the virus thrives, the virus spreads.”

He warned in a virtual address to the high-level meeting that a vaccine “will not address the vulnerabilities that lie at its root” — poverty, hunger, inequality and climate change, which he said must be tackled once the pandemic ends.

—Associated Press

Federal court denies Patriot Prayer leader’s request on COVID-19 restrictions before Vancouver rally

A federal judge has refused to issue an emergency order sought by Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson that would prevent him from being arrested or prosecuted for a prayer rally he has planned on Saturday in Vancouver.

Gibson filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Nov. 30 challenging some of Gov. Jay Inslee’s most recent COVID-19 restrictions, claiming they violate Constitutionally guaranteed religious liberties. Gibson, who is described in the lawsuit as a “street preacher,” then sought an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order seeking to prevent police from stopping, arresting or charging him at a protest that violates those restrictions, according to court documents and his attorney, Angus Lee.

Gibson is particularly incensed that the restrictions ban congregational singing during religious services, but not elsewhere, Lee said. Inslee, Gibson believes, “is unconstitutionally restricting religious freedoms,” the lawyer said.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle on Thursday rejected Gibson’s emergency motion outright, and at the same time granted a motion by Attorney General Bob Ferguson to intervene in the lawsuit and represent the governor.

Read the full story here.

—Mike Carter

Seattle to open first 2 self-administered, oral testing sites to community Saturday

Two new self-administered, oral coronavirus testing sites will open to Seattleites in Northgate and the Central District this weekend, adding more than 1,000 tests to the city’s daily capacity, city officials announced Friday.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins confirmed the new sites during a news conference last month.

The testing kiosks — which allow free oral swab tests — will be officially open Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. and will generally operate Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., though the hours may change depending on demand, according to a statement from the city.

One kiosk will be in the Northgate neighborhood at the south end of the Northgate Community Center (10510 Fifth Ave. N.E.), and the other will sit east of the Garfield Community Center (2323 E. Cherry St.) in the Central District, the statement said.

Registration for testing appointments starts online Friday evening.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama
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Anti-mask doctor’s medical license suspended

DALLAS, Ore. — The Oregon Medical Board has suspended the license of a doctor who said he refuses to wear a mask in his clinic west of Salem and encouraged others to not wear masks.

Dr. Steven LaTulippe told a pro-Trump rally in November that he and his staff do not wear masks while working in his Dallas clinic, KGW-TV reported.

A state order requires health care workers to wear face coverings in health care settings to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

The medical board voted Thursday to suspend LaTulippe’s license immediately. The indefinite suspension prevents LaTulippe from practicing medicine anywhere in the state. According to a statement on the Oregon Medical Board website, the suspension was issued “due to the board’s concern for the safety and welfare of licensee’s current and future patients.”

LaTulippe ran a family practice clinic called South View Medical Arts in Dallas.

—Associated Press

Hiring slows sharply in November as US employers added a modest 245,000 jobs

In a troubling new sign that the U.S. economy may be stalling, job growth slowed dramatically in November and more people gave up looking for work altogether.

The report released Friday, which showed that employers added only 245,000 jobs last month — down from 610,000 in October — was the latest sign that the country is essentially in a race between the surging COVID-19 virus and efforts to deploy an effective vaccine on a large scale.

“Today’s report is both a wakeup call and a warning,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed, an online jobs site. “Progress in the labor market has slowed at the worst possible time.”

Given the resistance to mask-wearing and social distancing among many Americans, experts’ predictions for a dark medical front may be matched by equally grim news on the economic front.

“We’re only beginning to see this recessionary dynamic, this downward spiral,” said Erica Groshen, an economist at Cornell University and former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which generates the monthly employment report.

The numbers are likely to increase pressure on Congress to end its deadlock over large-scale new stimulus measures.

—Los Angeles Times

WSU Cougar women’s first two games postponed because of COVID concerns

The Washington State women’s basketball team saw the first two games of its season postponed Friday.

The Cougars were to play at Cal on Sunday and at Stanford on Tuesday.

Washington State announced that it didn’t have the minimum number of players on scholarship (seven) available for the game because of COVID-19 protocols.

The school said the Pac-12 Conference will attempt to find mutually agreeable dates to reschedule.

Read the full story here.

—Seattle Times staff
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History of bribes weighs on China’s Sinovac as it speeds toward coronavirus vaccine

Chinese coronavirus-vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech is good at getting its products to market. It was first to begin clinical trials of a SARS vaccine in 2003 and first to bring a swine flu vaccine to consumers in 2009.

Its CEO was also bribing China’s drug regulator for vaccine approvals during that time, court records show.

Sinovac is now seeking to supply its coronavirus vaccine to developing nations, from Brazil to Turkey to Indonesia. While graft and weak transparency have long plagued China’s pharmaceutical industry, seldom has the reliability of a single drug vendor from the country mattered this much to the rest of the world.

Sinovac is one of China’s two coronavirus-vaccine front-runners, with its clinical testing in the same final stage as Moderna’s and Pfizer-BioNTech’s. Domestically, Sinovac’s vaccine is in second place, with state-owned Sinopharm’s vaccines more widely administered under an emergency-use program. Another Chinese vaccine, developed by CanSino and a military research institute, is approved for emergency use by China’s military.

Sinovac’s vaccine, Coronavac, may end up adopted in a number of developing markets. Officials in Brazil and Indonesia — the most populous nations in Latin America and Southeast Asia — say Coronavac could be approved in coming weeks. In Brazil, São Paulo Gov. João Doria has called it the safest vaccine the country has tested.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Wyoming health official: ‘so-called pandemic’ communist plot

CASPER, Wyo. — A Wyoming Department of Health official involved in the state’s response to the coronavirus questioned the legitimacy of the pandemic and described a forthcoming vaccine as a biological weapon at a recent event.

The “so-called pandemic” and efforts to develop a vaccine are plots by Russia and China to spread communism worldwide, department readiness and countermeasures manager Igor Shepherd said at the Nov. 10 event held by the group Keep Colorado Free and Open.

Shepherd was introduced as and talked about being a Wyoming Department of Health employee in the over hourlong presentation in Loveland, Colorado.

Shepherd’s baseless and unsubstantiated claims undermined Wyoming’s public health measures — and public exhortations — to limit spread of the virus, as well as its plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the months ahead.

Even so, Wyoming officials including Gov. Mark Gordon, who at a recent news conference called people not taking the virus seriously “knuckleheads,” declined to comment.

—Associated Press

San Francisco Bay Area issues new stay-at-home order

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The health officers in five San Francisco Bay Area counties issued a new stay-at-home order Friday requiring some businesses to close and banning all gatherings, as the number of virus cases surge and hospitals fill.

The changes take effect for most of the area at 10 p.m. Sunday and last through Jan. 4. Most of the counties have not yet reached Gov. Gavin Newsom’s threshold requiring the closures when 85% of ICU beds at regional hospitals are full. But officials said hospitals in the region will be overwhelmed in the coming weeks when Newsom’s order would apply.

“We don’t think we can wait for the state’s new restrictions to go into effect. … This is an emergency,” Contra Costa Health Officer Chris Farnitano said.

The order came the same day the state recorded another daily record number of cases, with 22,018, and hospitalizations topped 9,000 for first time.

Read the full story here.

—Olga R. Rodriguez and Juliet Williams / The Associated Press
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Gala ignites political dispute over COVID-19 restrictions

This image provided by the New York Young Republican Club, shows U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla, foreground right, as he poses with attendees at the organization’s 108th Annual Gala in Jersey City, N.J., on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. The New Jersey restaurant that hosted the political gala put on by the New York Republican Club was ordered temporarily closed Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, over potential violations of coronavirus guidelines. (Courtesy New York Republican Club via AP)
This image provided by the New York Young Republican Club, shows U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla, foreground right, as he poses with attendees at the organization’s 108th Annual Gala in Jersey City, N.J., on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. The New Jersey restaurant that hosted the political gala put on by the New York Republican Club was ordered temporarily closed Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, over potential violations of coronavirus guidelines. (Courtesy New York Republican Club via AP)

A New Jersey restaurant that hosted a political gala put on by a New York Republican club was ordered temporarily closed Friday over potential violations of coronavirus guidelines.

Photos and video posted on Twitter showed dozens of maskless partiers at the New York Young Republican Club event Thursday night in Jersey City, some of whom tweeted taunting messages to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Among the attendees was U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, and conservative political activist James O’Keefe.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a Democrat, said in an emailed statement that the event at the Maritime Parc restaurant in Liberty State Park was “an egregious violation” of state coronavirus guidelines and that he was ordering the restaurant temporarily closed.

“In Jersey City we take Covid enforcement very seriously, and this event appears to be an egregious violation of the governor’s executive orders, including capacity limitations and mandatory mask wearing,” Fulop wrote. “This event blatantly disregards the protections put in place to safeguard the community from further contagion and has put Jersey City and countless others at serious risk.”

No one answered the phone at the restaurant. Gaetz didn’t respond to a text message Friday.

Read the full story here.

—David Porter / The Associated Press

State DOH confirms 1,853 new COVID-19 cases in Washington, 25 new deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) confirmed 1,853 new COVID-19 cases on Friday afternoon, plus 25 new deaths.

The update brings the state’s totals to 174,290 cases and 2,925 deaths, meaning 1.7% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH data dashboard. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday. 

The DOH also reported that 11,273 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus, representing 78 new hospitalizations compared with Thursday's update.

In King County, the state’s most populous, 420 new cases and nine new deaths were reported, bringing the county's totals to 46,490 infections and 914 deaths.

—Trevor Lenzmeier

Operator shortage forces Sound Transit to reduce peak light-rail trains

Sound Transit will reduce its train service temporarily because of a COVID-related lack of workers, the agency announced.

Link light-rail trains, which operate between the city of SeaTac and the University of Washington, will arrive 12 minutes apart, instead of the normally scheduled 7-to-8-minute frequency, at peak times between 6:06 a.m. and 8:28 a.m. and between 2:16 p.m. and 6:23 p.m. Trains arrive 15 minutes apart during off-peak weekday hours, until about 10 p.m., when they're reduced to 30-minute frequency.

The cuts begin Monday, Dec. 7.

"We hope that the reduction will last for just a few weeks, but as COVID continues to spread in the region, that is subject to change," said Sound Transit spokesman John Gallagher.

The trains are operated under contract by King County Metro Transit.

Train operators could be staying home to care for relatives, because they have the virus, or as a precaution, said Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer.

Three new train operators are taking an eight-week training course but won't be ready until mid-January, to be followed by more in 2021, Switzer said. On a normal day, 45 operators are on duty, including a few "extra board" crew to substitute for those, he said. With next week's reductions, only 37 will be needed, he said. Metro employs a total 78 Link rail operators, which has historically been enough, Switzer said.

Meanwhile, the downtown Tacoma Link trains, directly operated by Sound Transit, will convert from a Saturday schedule to a lesser Sunday schedule on Dec. 5 and Dec. 12.

As in much of the U.S., coronavirus cases spiked this fall among transit workers. Metro reported 20 personnel tested positive from Nov. 1 to 20. Four public-transit workers are known to have died from COVID-19 in the Puget Sound region since the area's first outbreak, at a Kirkland nursing home, was revealed Feb. 29.

Sound Transit's combined train and bus ridership totals only 20% of normal this fall, so a temporary service cut shouldn't cause overcrowding. In boom times, light-rail hauled about 79,000 daily passengers.

Metro previously laid off 200 part-time bus drivers, and since September has provided 15% less countywide service than in 2019, because of lower sales-tax income.

—Mike Lindblom
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COVID survivors with long-term symptoms need urgent attention, experts say

There is an urgent need to address long-term symptoms of the coronavirus, leading public health officials said this week, warning that hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of people worldwide might experience lingering problems that could impede their ability to work and function normally.

In a two-day meeting Thursday and Friday, the federal government’s first workshop dedicated to long-term COVID-19, public health officials, medical researchers and patients said the condition needed to be recognized as a syndrome, given a name and taken seriously by doctors.

“This is a phenomenon that is really quite real and quite extensive,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said at the conference Thursday.

While the number of people affected is still unknown, he said, if long-term symptoms afflict even a small proportion of the millions of people infected with the coronavirus, it is “going to represent a significant public health issue.”

Such symptoms — ranging from breathing trouble to heart issues to cognitive and psychological problems — are already plaguing an untold number of people worldwide. Even for people who were never sick enough to be hospitalized, the aftermath can be long and grueling, with a complex and lasting mix of symptoms.

Read the full story here.

—Pam Belluck / The New York Times

In a first, the CDC says to use masks indoors when not home

A worker wears a protective mask while preparing food at a restaurant in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. As coronavirus cases surges across Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee has left the decision on a mask mandate to local counties. (Bloomberg)
A worker wears a protective mask while preparing food at a restaurant in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. As coronavirus cases surges across Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee has left the decision on a mask mandate to local counties. (Bloomberg)

Americans should be wearing a mask indoors whenever they’re outside their own home, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending for the first time as Covid-19 surges across the country.

The recommendation on mask-wearing in all indoor sites came in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report, which cited a high-level transmission of the virus as the ongoing holiday season and colder weather have driven more people indoors.

“Consistent and correct use of face masks is a public health strategy critical to reducing respiratory transmission” of Covid-19, the report stated, adding that this was particularly important “in light of estimates that approximately one half of new infections are transmitted by persons who have no symptoms.”

Face masks are most important in indoor spaces, the advisory said, and outdoors when six feet of separation can’t be maintained. Within households, face masks should also be used when a member is infected or has had recent potential Covid-19 exposure, according to the CDC guidance.

Read more about the new recommendation here.

—Anna Edney, Bloomberg

States submit vaccine orders as coronavirus death toll grows

A worker walks through the hallway of a newly opened field hospital operated by Care New England to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients in Cranston, R.I., on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. States faced a deadline on Friday, Dec. 4, to place orders for the coronavirus vaccine as many reported record infections, hospitalizations and deaths, while hospitals were pushed to the breaking point — with the worst feared yet to come. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
A worker walks through the hallway of a newly opened field hospital operated by Care New England to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients in Cranston, R.I., on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. States faced a deadline on Friday, Dec. 4, to place orders for the coronavirus vaccine as many reported record infections, hospitalizations and deaths, while hospitals were pushed to the breaking point — with the worst feared yet to come. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

States faced a deadline on Friday to place orders for the coronavirus vaccine as many reported record infections, hospitalizations and deaths, while hospitals were pushed to the breaking point — with the worst feared yet to come.

The number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 hit an all-time high in the U.S. on Thursday at 100,667, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That figure has more than doubled over the past month, while new daily cases are averaging 210,000 and deaths are averaging 1,800 per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Arizona on Friday reported more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases for the second straight day as the number of available intensive care unit beds fell below 10% statewide. Hospital officials have said the outbreak will exceed hospital capacity this month.

Nevada reported 48 new deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday, marking the deadliest day since the onset of the pandemic as case and death totals continued to rise more than a week after new restrictions were implemented on businesses. One hospital was so full it was treating patients in an auxiliary unit in the parking garage.

North Carolina reported a record 5,600 new confirmed cases Thursday and 2,100 hospitalizations, as it awaited nearly 85,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, perhaps as early as Dec. 15.

Health officials fear the situation will get worse before it gets better because of delayed effects from Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans disregarded warnings to stay home and celebrate only with members of their household.

At the same time, hospitals — and their workers — were stretched to the limit.

Read the full story here.

—Michael Rubinkam and Tammy Webber, The Associated Press
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Kansas man’s obit criticizes those who won’t wear masks

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. — He was born as America was recovering from the Great Depression and about to enter World War II — periods of national sacrifice his son would recall decades later in an obituary lamenting his death from COVID-19 even as many people refused to wear “a piece of cloth on their face to protect one another.”

After Dr. Marvin James Farr of Scott City, Kansas, died Tuesday in isolation at a nursing home, his son penned an obituary in which he noted that his father was preceded in death by more than 260,000 Americans infected with the coronavirus.

The obituary written by Courtney Farr has been widely shared on social media and cited in newspapers. He wrote about how his father died “being cared by people dressed in confusing and frightening ways” and said “his final days were harder, scarier and lonelier than necessary.” He also recounted how his father, a farmer and a veterinarian, filled his life with an understanding of the science of life.

“The science that guided his professional life has been disparaged and abandoned by so many of the same people who depended on his knowledge to care for their animals and to raise their food,” the obituary said.

Read more about the obituary and the reaction to it here.

—Roxana Hegeman, The Associated Press

Bahrain now 2nd nation to grant Pfizer coronavirus vaccine emergency use

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The island kingdom of Bahrain said Friday it has become the second nation in the world to grant an emergency-use authorization for the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

The state-run Bahrain News Agency made the announcement on Friday night, following an earlier announcement by the United Kingdom on Wednesday, making Britain the first in the world.

“The confirmation of approval by the National Health Regulatory Authority of the kingdom of Bahrain followed thorough analysis and review undertaken by the authority of all available data,” the kingdom said on its state-run Bahrain News Agency.

Bahrain did not say how may vaccines it has purchased, nor when vaccinations would begin. It did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press.

Click here to read the full story.

—Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press

As first vaccine doses arrive in U.K., officials tell doctors and nurses they won’t get priority

Matron May Parsons, right, is assessed by Victoria Parker, center, as medical staff train to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in a clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry, England, on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.(Steve Parsons / The Associated Press)
Matron May Parsons, right, is assessed by Victoria Parker, center, as medical staff train to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in a clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry, England, on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.(Steve Parsons / The Associated Press)

LONDON — The first doses of the newly approved coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer arrived in Britain on Thursday night, the shipment packed in dry ice and traveling by truck from the company’s manufacturing plant in Belgium through the Eurotunnel to England.

Yet excitement over next week’s planned launch of a mass immunization program was tempered Friday by frustration over a late decision to exclude front line health workers from the first round — though many had already booked appointments.

Priority will go to people over 80 years old and to nursing home caregivers, and public health officials conceded that demand could quickly outstrip supply in the early months, even for those groups. The 800,000 doses Britain expects to get this month “could be the only batch we receive for some time,” warned Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers.

Britain’s early launch makes it the first country to confront the challenges of rolling out a vaccine that uses revolutionary technology and requires extremely careful handling.

The United States isn’t far behind in its approval decision, and experience here could inform U.S. efforts — though the United Kingdom’s universal health-care system allows a more centralized approach.

Read more about the vaccine rollout here.

—Karla Adam and William Booth, The Washington Post
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How 700 epidemiologists are living now, and what they think is next

Even with coronavirus vaccines on the way, many epidemiologists do not expect their lives to return to pre-pandemic normal until most Americans are vaccinated. In the meantime, most have eased up on some precautions — now going to the grocery store or seeing friends outdoors, for example — but are as cautious as ever about many activities of daily life.

In a new informal survey of 700 epidemiologists by The New York Times, half said they would not change their personal behavior until at least 70% of the population was vaccinated. Thirty percent said they would make some changes once they were vaccinated themselves.

A minority of the epidemiologists said that if highly effective vaccines were widely distributed, it would be safe for Americans to begin living more freely this summer.

“I am optimistic that the encouraging vaccine results mean we’ll be back on track by or during summer 2021,” said Kelly Strutz, an assistant professor at Michigan State University.

But most said that even with vaccines, it would probably take a year or more for many activities to safely restart, and that some parts of their lives may never return to the way they were.

Karin Michels, professor of epidemiology at UCLA, said it would probably be many years until it was safe enough to “return to approximately the lifestyle we had.” She said, “We have to settle to live with the virus.”

Click here to read the full story.

—By Margot Sanger-Katz, Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui, The New York Times

EU police warn of fake coronavirus vaccines

European Union police agency Europol issued a warning Friday highlighting the risk of organized crime scams linked to COVID-19 vaccines, including the possibility criminals will try to sell dangerous counterfeit vaccines or to hijack shipments of genuine shots.

In an “early warning notification,” Europol said that crime gangs already have reacted to opportunities presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Once a legitimate vaccine enters the market, counterfeited versions of the specific vaccine brand are expected to circulate rapidly,” the agency’s warning said, citing a phony flu vaccine that the World Health Organization discovered in Mexico in October.

The warning urged heightened vigilance by the EU’s 27 member nations and said the threat will likely rise once the legitimate vaccines become available.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

As hospitals cope with a COVID-19 surge, cyber threats loom

By late morning on Oct. 28, staff at the University of Vermont Medical Center noticed the hospital’s phone system wasn’t working.

Then the internet went down, and the Burlington-based center’s technical infrastructure with it. Employees lost access to databases, digital health records, scheduling systems and other online tools they rely on for patient care.

In its main laboratory, which runs about 8,000 tests a day, employees printed or hand-wrote results and carried them across facilities to specialists. Outdated, internet-free technologies experienced a revival.

Computers affected by a cyberattack on the University of Vermont Health Network await replacement. Cyberattacks can be devastating to a health-care organization, and even more so in the midst of dealing with a pandemic. (Ryan Mercer/University of Vermont Health Network via AP)
Computers affected by a cyberattack on the University of Vermont Health Network await replacement. Cyberattacks can be devastating to a health-care organization, and even more so in the midst of dealing with a pandemic. (Ryan Mercer/University of Vermont Health Network via AP)

The Vermont hospital had fallen prey to a cyberattack, becoming one of the most recent and visible examples of a wave of digital assaults taking U.S. health care providers hostage as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide.

The same day as UVM’s attack, the FBI and two federal agencies warned cybercriminals were ramping up efforts to steal data and disrupt services across the health care sector.

By targeting providers with attacks that scramble and lock up data until victims pay a ransom, hackers can demand thousands or millions of dollars and wreak havoc until they’re paid.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Germany readies vaccine centers amid security concerns

Officials in Germany said Friday that they are taking the potential for attacks on mass vaccination centers into consideration as they set up sites to prepare for European Union regulators authorizing the first coronavirus vaccines.

The former head of Germany’s civil protection agency, Albrecht Broemme, was tasked with setting up six mass vaccination sites in Berlin.

He said security questions still need to be resolved. Unlike with hospitals, which tend to be treated respectfully, “with the centers it’s indeed possible that people opposed to vaccination or others willing to use violence might say ‘Let’s set this on fire because we think vaccinations are stupid,'” Broemme said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Alaska Rep. Young returns to work after coronavirus recovery

U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska has returned to work after recovering from COVID-19, his office said.

The 87-year-old Republican lawmakerannounced Nov. 12 he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

In March, Young referred to the coronavirus as the “beer virus” before an audience that included older Alaskans and said the media had contributed to hysteria over COVID-19. After contracting the virus, Young said he had not grasped the severity of the illness.

“Very frankly, I had not felt this sick in a very long time, and I am grateful to everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers,” Young said following his release from an Anchorage hospital Nov. 16.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Data shows Americans couldn’t resist Thanksgiving travel

Americans couldn’t resist the urge to gather for Thanksgiving, driving only slightly less than a year ago and largely ignoring the pleas of public health experts, who begged them to forgo holiday travel to help contain the coronavirus pandemic, data from roadways and airports shows.

The nation’s unwillingness to tamp down on travel offered a warning in advance of Christmas and New Year’s as virus deaths and hospitalizations hit new highs a week after Thanksgiving. U.S. deaths from the outbreak eclipsed 3,100 on Thursday, obliterating the single-day record set last spring.

Vickie Lechuk, right, waits in line to check baggage at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Cleveland. Lecuk is traveling to Tampa, Florida. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Vickie Lechuk, right, waits in line to check baggage at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Cleveland. Lecuk is traveling to Tampa, Florida. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Vehicle travel in early November was as much as 20% lower than a year earlier, but it surged around the holiday and peaked on Thanksgiving Day at only about 5% less than the pandemic-free period in 2019, according to StreetLight Data, which provided an analysis to The Associated Press.

“If only a small percentage of those travelers were asymptomatically infected, this can translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another,” Dr. Cindy Friedman, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official, said this week during a briefing.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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UK defends vaccine decision amid criticism it moved too fast

U.K. regulators went on the offensive Friday to beat back criticism that they rushed their authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying they rigorously analyzed data on safety and effectiveness in the shortest time possible without compromising the thoroughness of their review.

The comments from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency came as the Times newspaper reported that the agency’s chief executive, Dr. June Raine, planned to give a series of radio interviews so she could speak directly to people who may be concerned about getting vaccinated.

The MHRA reiterated earlier statements that the agency is conducting rolling reviews of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, allowing regulators to speed up the review process by looking at data as it becomes available. The agency gave emergency approval on Wednesday to a vaccine produced by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany-based BioNTech, making Britain the first Western country to authorize a vaccine against the coronavirus.

The ability to act more quickly “does not mean steps and the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness have been bypassed,” the MHRA said. “No vaccine would be authorized for supply in the U.K. unless the expected standards of safety, quality and efficacy are met.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had told U.S. media outlets that U.K. regulators hadn’t acted “as carefully” as the Food and Drug Administration. He later clarified to the BBC that he had meant to say that U.S. authorities do things differently than their British counterparts, not better, but didn’t phrase his comments properly.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

A nurse and her entire family contracted COVID-19 under one roof. It started with a ‘selfless’ car ride.

As Sofia Burke leaned back in her hospital bed this week, she clutched an oxygen mask to her face while explaining how her mother’s kindness toward others resulted in the New Jersey nurse contracting coronavirus.

Despite following all health and safety guidelines for months, Burke did not know that her mother, Dora Matias, gave a ride last month to an elderly friend who said she had a cold. By Thanksgiving, the “selfless” car ride with the coughing companion set off what Burke called a “superspreader” event in her large household.

“My mother left her guard down for one moment – one moment,” Burke, 43, said to CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday, pausing to catch her breath. “And in that swift moment, my entire family was affected.”

Now, weeks after the car ride, Burke and seven other members of her Elmwood Park, N.J., home have tested positive for covid-19, according to WPIX. Otto Bowless, her 93-year-old father, died last week of covid complications, as first reported by NorthJersey.com.

Read the full story here.

—Andrea Salcedo, The Washington Post

Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up

• Warner Bros. will stream all of its 2021 films at the same time they play in theaters. It's a seismic shift for Hollywood.

• The show must go on, even if that means on … line. Seattle-area performing arts groups have plans to inject much-needed cheer into the holiday season.

• Spice up your reading list, find something to stream or hit the slopes. Here are our ideas for a fun weekend.​​​​​​

—Kris Higginson
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Catch up on the last 24 hours

Daily coronavirus hospitalizations are now higher than they were during a surge in the spring. In this photo from July, a critical care nurse, right, verifies medication for a COVID-19 patient in isolation on the ICU floor at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)
Daily coronavirus hospitalizations are now higher than they were during a surge in the spring. In this photo from July, a critical care nurse, right, verifies medication for a COVID-19 patient in isolation on the ICU floor at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

State's coronavirus hospitalizations hit highest level ever

The number of patients newly hospitalized with COVID-19 in Washington more than doubled in November and is growing faster than at any other time during the pandemic, the state's top public health officer says. Hospitals are canceling procedures and looking for ways to stretch care, but there aren't many extra hands left to help tired, burned-out health workers.

Suzanne Mayer, a veteran math teacher at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle, has a three-screen setup in her garage, which allows her to watch students work and also view her  lessons in student mode, to make sure it’s all working. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
Suzanne Mayer, a veteran math teacher at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle, has a three-screen setup in her garage, which allows her to watch students work and also view her lessons in student mode, to make sure it’s all working. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Behind the scenes in a 2020 classroom

“If kids learn math this year, I’ll be … doing back flips down the hallway,” says Suzanne Mayer, a veteran math teacher at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle. She's feeling like a new teacher all over again as she treks to her garage and an elaborate three-screen setup that speaks to the difficulties of online teaching. Here's how Mayer, whom one colleague calls "the best teacher in the city," is making it work.

Best of the rest

• President-elect Joe Biden will call for 100 days of mask-wearing as one of his first acts. He's asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay and picked America's new top doctor. Biden also said he'd get inoculated on camera, and so did three former presidents.

• Today is a key deadline in the vaccine push. Emotions are running high as states submit their plans for who's first in line and where the vaccines should be shipped. And some trial volunteers who got placebo vaccines say they now deserve real ones. But that could be disastrous, vaccine experts say.

• Now that your phone can warn you that you've been exposed to the coronavirus, we're answering questions about how the new WA Notify app works, along with whether Washington will adopt the CDC's new guidelines for a shorter quarantine.

• Spit in a tube and mail it in: The first do-it-yourself coronavirus test kits are rolling out.

"Rapid-response teams" will be sent to Washington nursing homes as staffers test positive.

• California is imposing far-reaching new lockdowns that will change daily life for millions of people.

• Optimism is growing for a COVID-19 relief bill. One complication: which president would decide whether to sign it.

—Kris Higginson

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