Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Sunday, Dec. 7, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
King County public officials are using online concerts and high-school aged “social media ambassadors” to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 among youth people.
Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau wants students enrolled in preschool through second grade to return to in-person school by spring.
And about 100 million Americans are pondering whether to activate COVID-19 exposure notifications on their mobile phones.
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.
Anti-vaccine scientist has been invited to testify before Senate committee
A doctor who is skeptical of coronavirus vaccines and promotes the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment will be the lead witness at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, prompting criticism from Democrats who say Republicans should not give a platform to someone who spreads conspiracy theories.
Dr. Jane Orient is executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group that opposes government involvement in medicine and views federal vaccine mandates as a violation of human rights.
“A public health threat is the rationale for the policy on mandatory vaccines. But how much of a threat is required to justify forcing people to accept government-imposed risks?” Orient wrote in a statement to the Senate last year, calling vaccine mandates “a serious intrusion into individual liberty, autonomy and parental decisions.”
Trump officials push ambitious vaccine timeline as California locks down
The Trump administration’s top health officials outlined an ambitious timetable Sunday for distributing the first coronavirus vaccinations to as many as 24 million people by mid-January, even as the accelerating toll of the pandemic filled more hospital beds across the United States and prompted new shutdown orders in much of California.
After criticism from President-elect Joe Biden that the administration had “no detailed” vaccine distribution plan, Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program, said all residents of long-term care facilities and health workers could receive the first round of vaccinations by mid-January.
No. 1 Gonzaga pauses basketball competition through Dec. 14 because of COVID-19 issues
Top-ranked Gonzaga paused basketball competition Sunday through Dec. 14 because of COVID-19.
On Saturday in Indianapolis, less than 90 minutes before the scheduled tip-off against No. 2 Baylor, the game was called off because of two positive COVID-19 tests in the Bulldogs program.
Gonzaga last played Wednesday night in Indianapolis, beating No. 11 West Virginia to improve to 3-0.
The pause in competition wiped out scheduled home games Tuesday against Tarleton State, Thursday against Southern University, Saturday against Northern Arizona and Dec. 14 against Idaho.
Washington reports 177,447 coronavirus cases
The Washington state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,654 new cases of the coronavirus statewide, and 69 new hospitalizations since Dec. 4. King County saw an uptick of 403 cases. Total cases are at 177,447 and 47,435 for the state and county, respectively. The number of total hospitalizations reached 11,544.
A note on the state's coronavirus dashboard says the number of cases reported on Dec. 6 may be an undercount and may include up to 970 duplicate cases, due to a slowdown in processing, an increase in the volume of reports coming from labs and other factors.
The state does not tally new deaths on weekends, but noted that as many as 90 deaths added to its dashboard as of yesterday were "incorrectly classified" as COVID-19 deaths. Corrections will be made on Monday, according to the DOH website. The current statewide death toll stands at 2,925.
Biden picks Calif. AG Becerra to lead HHS, pandemic response
President-elect Joe Biden has picked California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be his health secretary, putting a defender of the Affordable Care Act in a leading role to oversee his administration’s coronavirus response.
If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra, 62, will be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1-trillion-plus agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, leading-edge medical research and health insurance programs covering more than 130 million Americans.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tests positive for COVID
President Donald Trump said Sunday his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has tested positive for the coronavirus, making him the latest in Trump’s inner circle to contract the disease that is now surging across the U.S.
The 76-year-old former New York mayor has traveled extensively to battleground states in recent days and weeks in an effort to help Trump subvert his election loss. On numerous occasions he has met with officials for hours at a time without wearing a mask.
COVID disinformation sites often use tools from Google, Facebook and Apple, report finds
Google, Facebook, Apple and other technology companies that try to keep COVID-19 disinformation and fraud off their own platforms are enabling their spread through the online services, tools and code they offer to other websites, according to a new report from Oxford University.
The 120 websites studied by the Oxford researchers support protests against government health restrictions or spread misleading information about COVID — false cures, fake charities or misleading health advice. These sites use web hosting, ad-tracking services, web development tools and social media links from leading technology companies.
Some of the tools are free “widgets” — bits of computer code — that allow web designers to expand the capabilities of their sites and are used widely across the internet, often without the companies that produce them knowing who is deploying them. Several problematic sites, for example, support financial transactions through Apple Pay, use Apple’s affiliate links or enable compatibility with Apple devices such as the iPhone, the Oxford researchers said.
Some of the content pushed by the websites using these tools and services probably would not be permitted on platforms run by several of the same top technology companies, including Facebook and Google, whose web tools were “particularly pervasive” on the sites, the report found. These and other companies have worked for months to fight scammers seeking to profit from the pandemic and disinformation that undermines the efforts of public health officials to control it.
The report, “Profiting from the Pandemic,” published last week by Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project, suggests these companies could do more.
“They’ve made the first step in doing content moderation,” said Philip N. Howard, principal investigator for the project and a co-author of the report along with Oxford researcher Yung Au. “The next step is to withdraw the back-end services that enable COVID misinformation and fraudulent scams.”
Tell us your story about something good that happened in 2020
It’s been a rough year.
More than a quarter-million Americans have died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. People have lost jobs and businesses, skipped trips and weddings, missed seeing their families.
But life has gone on. Good things have happened. Amid 2020, there has been joy.
We at The Seattle Times would like you to tell us about it.
Did you get married? Get a new job? Have a baby? Graduate? Become a grandparent? Reconnect with a friend? Plant a garden? Something else?
What moments or events, big or small, public or personal, brought you joy in 2020?
Sports roll on in the U.S. while the pandemic rages
Snow-covered stands and an empty field loomed ominously in Saskatchewan last weekend for what was supposed to be the 108th Grey Cup championship game capping Canada’s professional football season.
Instead, it was a reminder of differences between how Canada has handled sports during the pandemic compared to this country. There was no Grey Cup for the first time since 1919 because no football – pro, college or high school – was played in Canada this year compared to U.S. teams trying to scrounge enough non-COVID-19-impacted players together for games amid a national infection rate four times higher and a death toll 2½ times greater per capita than our northern neighbor.
Canada’s various governments decided by summer that allowing major sports to continue as usual was too risky and polls showed the public supporting that call. So, professional sports teams were sent packing to temporary U.S. homes, others were made to play in “bubble” zones while universities, junior hockey and other amateur leagues mostly ceased playing.
By comparison, the U.S. has had no clear federal guidance, with individual states and municipalities left to dictate rules that vary greatly.
This isn’t the first time the two countries have diverged at the intersection of sports and public policy; Americans typically more financially and politically accommodating to leagues, teams, players and the corporate interests surrounding them. But our country’s modern obsession with sports never had life-and-death consequences of a pandemic attached.
“I think sports here are seen as more essential,” said Dr. Arthur Caplan, professor and founding head of the division of medical ethics at the NYU School of Medicine and member of the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory committee.
"I’ve actually jokingly said in some interviews and op-ed pieces that if you ask Americans to list some essential workers, they might not list firefighters or Amazon delivery people. They’d probably list sports people. That doesn’t seem to me to be the Canadian attitude.”
Early warning signs: COVID-19 could mean fewer students go to college in Washington in 2021
A dip in applications for financial aid tells a troubling story about which and how many Washington students are making plans to pursue — and get help paying for — education after high school.
Those early warning signs have alarmed Washington state’s college access and financial aid workers, sending them into overdrive. They’re doubling down on virtual information sessions, making sure students know there’s immediate help if they call by phone, and trying everything, anything to get high schools and colleges in on the action.
But virtual connection with school counselors isn’t the same, and some worry that the pandemic will shape who gets to attend college — a change that could jeopardize educational equity and colleges’ revenues for years to come.
“It’s scary. I’m nervous. I’m concerned,” said Guadalupe Torres, who leads Washington — College Possible, a nonprofit that works to get south King County students to and through college. “These are warning signs. If we’re not working now, it’s only going to make this problem bigger.”
The college admissions cycle has months to go, and things could surely change during that time — especially if a vaccine enables school buildings to reopen. But as of late November, the evidence painted a concerning, if mixed, picture.
Historically, Washington has ranked near the bottom compared to other states when it comes to students completing FAFSA, the universal federal form that is the portal to financial aid. Now, Washington’s relative standing is higher, but completions were down 14.66% from last year.
The elderly vs. essential workers: Who should get the coronavirus vaccine first?
With the coronavirus pandemic surging and initial vaccine supplies limited, the United States faces a hard choice: Should the country’s immunization program focus in the early months on the elderly and people with serious medical conditions, who are dying of the virus at the highest rates, or on essential workers, an expansive category encompassing Americans who have borne the greatest risk of infection?
Health care workers and the frailest of the elderly — residents of long-term-care facilities — will almost certainly get the first shots, under guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Thursday. But with vaccination expected to start this month, the debate among federal and state health officials about who goes next, and lobbying from outside groups to be included, is growing more urgent.
It’s a question increasingly guided by concerns over the inequities laid bare by the pandemic, from disproportionately high rates of infection and death among poor people and people of color to disparate access to testing, child care and technology for online schooling.
“It’s damnable that we are even being placed in this position that we have to make these choices,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, a national coalition that calls attention to the challenges of the working poor. “But if we have to make the choice, we cannot once again leave poor and low-wealth essential workers to be last.”
Ultimately, the choice comes down to whether preventing death or curbing the spread of the virus and returning to some semblance of normalcy is the highest priority.
“If your goal is to maximize the preservation of human life, then you would bias the vaccine toward older Americans,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said recently. “If your goal is to reduce the rate of infection, then you would prioritize essential workers.”
The trade-off between the two is muddied by the fact that the definition of “essential workers” used by the CDC comprises nearly 70% of the U.S. workforce, sweeping in not just grocery store clerks and emergency responders but tugboat operators, exterminators and nuclear energy workers.
An independent committee of medical experts that advises the CDC on immunization practices will soon vote on whom to recommend for the second phase of vaccination — “Phase 1b.” In a meeting last month, all voting members of the committee indicated support for putting essential workers ahead of people 65 and older and those with high-risk health conditions.
200,000 meals: Demand soars among Seattle-area seniors during pandemic
Shirley Gillespie says she doesn’t have a favorite dish, but the braised beef tips transforms a mundane meal into a Saturday night out.
“It’s just delicious,” she said. “The lemon pepper fish is another Saturday night out.”
The 89-year-old Gillespie, who no longer drives, began having Meals on Wheels dishes delivered to her Kirkland apartment by Sound Generations in June.
Besides not driving, Gillespie doesn’t get out much because of the pandemic and fading eyesight. She and two friends do occasionally mask up, don gloves and go to the grocery.
“That’s about the only time we go anywhere,” she said.
She learned about the meal-delivery program by Sound Generations because she had been using the nonprofit for transportation to doctor appointments since she moved from Bellingham to the Eastside six years ago.
Sound Generations' Meals on Wheels program is for people 60 and older who are homebound and without transportation or have difficulty shopping and cooking because of injury.
Sound Generations is a nonprofit that has been working with older adults, caregivers and adults with disabilities in King County since 1967. The nonprofit helps about 54,000 people a year, runs six senior centers in King County and in addition to its meal and transportation programs, it offers legal assistance, health management and minor home repair and other services to seniors, caregivers and adults with disabilities.
Sound Generations is one of a dozen nonprofits benefiting from readers’ donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
In Pakistan, seven virus patients die after oxygen supply runs out
Seven patients being treated for the coronavirus died after one of the largest hospitals in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar ran out of oxygen supplies, officials said Sunday.
Farhad Khan, a spokesman at Khyber Teaching Hospital, said the patients died Saturday night when the vendor who supplies the hospital with medical oxygen to refill tanks failed to arrive in time. The hospital, the second largest in Peshawar, receives its oxygen cylinders from a vendor in Rawalpindi, a city about 190 kilometers (118 miles) away, Khan said.
Provincial Health Minister Taimur Saim Jhagra tweeted about the incident, saying the hospital’s board of governors has been ordered to complete an investigation into the deaths and take action within 48 hours against those responsible. He promised that “all facts of the case will be made public.”
Pakistan, a country of around 220 million people, has recorded 58 COVID-19 deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths from the virus to 8,361. The number of total confirmed cases in Pakistan stands at nearly 416,500.
That number, like other places around the world, is likely somewhat higher due to limited testing. Pakistan has tested around 5.8 million people for the virus, or about 2.6% of the population.
Public health officials enlist youth ambassadors to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Seattle
Hunter Grier was ready to rock.
But first, he had a message for the more than 10,000 people — mostly young — watching online.
“I don’t think you need to hear it from me, but I wouldn’t be here saying it if I didn’t think it was super important,” the 20-year-old musician who performs as honeypot told his virtual audience. “There’s no excuse at this point. Just wear a … mask and be cool and that’s all it takes.”
Then he launched into a propulsive song called “mirror,” standing alone in his Snohomish County home with a guitar and mic — and singing through a mask.
Honeypot was the opening act Nov. 28 for the first “Safe in Sound” streaming concert produced by the incongruous combination of The Vera Project — a nonprofit for youth that specializes in punk and hip-hop performances — and Public Health – Seattle & King County.
With coronavirus infections growing exponentially across Washington and people under the age of 40 accounting for nearly 60% of new cases, health officials are trying new tactics to reach the crucial youth demographic. They’re abandoning the formality of traditional public health messages and enlisting young people as advisers and emissaries to others of their own age.
The need to communicate more effectively with young people is reflected in the statistics.
Infection rates in people aged 10 to 29 more than tripled in King County between early October and early November. For the week of Nov. 17, the rate of new infections in adults under 30 was 441 per 100,000 — nearly twice as high as any other age group.
“When you look at the data on how young people are being impacted by COVID, you can clearly see that something’s not working and we need to figure out different ways to reach them,” said Hikma Sherka, 23, a youth leader in Seattle’s Ethiopian community and a member of King County’s Children and Youth Advisory Board.
Young people are less likely to get seriously ill or be hospitalized with COVID-19, but they play an important role in the ongoing spread of the disease, said Judith Malmgren, a Seattle epidemiologist affiliated with the University of Washington.
You have questions about COVID-19 exposure notifications. Here are answers.
Here’s a phone alert you wouldn’t want to miss: “You have likely been exposed.”
The coronavirus surge is upon us, and your phone might be able to help. About 100 million Americans (including Washington state residents) now have the ability to get pop-up notifications from local health authorities when they’ve personally spent time near someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus.
But exposure notifications only work if you and the people around you turn them on. Yes, you!
There’s early evidence this anonymous smartphone technology works – but so far isn’t helping very many Americans.
The alerts use software built by Apple and Google into iPhones and Android devices to detect when people (or the phones they’re holding) get into close contact with each other. That might sound like a privacy invasion, but they figured out how to track encounters between people in a way that’s anonymous – and doesn’t store your location – by using the Bluetooth wireless technology in phones.
Exposure alerts worked for the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam. He and the first lady tested positive for the coronavirus in September, and because they had it working on their phones, staff members exposed to them got notified. And they’re picking up steam: In its first few weeks, Colorado’s system was activated by a million residents, or 17 percent of its population.
So why aren’t our phones a big part of America’s coronavirus response? For starters, each state’s local health department has to develop and operate its own system (though they’ve recently begun making them work across borders). Privacy concerns about similar-sounding – but actually very different – contact-tracing apps have needlessly scared people away. And frankly, Apple and Google buried the settings and apps you’ll need, bungling what could have been the year’s most-helpful tech launch.
You don’t have much to lose, so you might as well turn exposure alerts on. It takes less than five minutes to set up, and this guide will help.
Seattle superintendent wants pre-K through second grade back in-person by spring
By spring, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau wants students enrolled in preschool through second grade back in school buildings daily, and broader in-person services for students with disabilities. The Seattle School Board, which has yet to approve the recommendation, appears amenable, although with some reservations.
It’s the first time the district has put out a major plan for in-person learning this school year. Officials had remained mostly silent on the issue, even as surrounding districts such as Bellevue have been drawing up plans publicly for months. No districts in King County have implemented in-person learning on a wide scale.
Under the proposal, parents could choose to keep their kids at home and continue with remote learning.
But the path to a Seattle reopening, as presented by the district during an online School Board retreatSaturday, is lengthy — about two and a half months between approval and implementation, with a target date of March 1, possibly earlier for special education students.
Disease metrics would play a role in kick-starting or scaling back in-person instruction, but all the details are not yet clear. Most critically, a broad return to the physical classroom would need buy-in from teachers, whose union to date has been deeply skeptical of district proposals.
The district said Saturday it would be able to upgrade and adjust any airflow and ventilation systems in its buildings by mid-February. To ensure physical distancing, the district wants a ratio of no more than 15 students to a teacher.
New restrictions imposed across California as intensive care units fill up
Faced with a dire shortage of hospital beds, health officials announced Saturday the vast region of Southern California and a large swath of the Central Valley will be placed under a sweeping new lockdown in an urgent attempt to slow the rapid rise of coronavirus cases.
The California Department of Public Health said the intensive care unit capacity in both regions’ hospitals had fallen below a 15% threshold that triggers the new measures, which include strict closures for businesses and a ban on gathering with anyone outside of your own household. The new measures will take effect Sunday evening and remain in place for at least three weeks, meaning the lockdown will cover the Christmas holiday.
Much of the state is on the brink of the same restrictions. Some counties have opted to impose them even before reaching the 15% threshold, including five San Francisco Bay Area counties where the measures also take effect starting Sunday.
With a new lockdown looming, many rushed out to supermarkets Saturday and lined up outside salons to squeeze in a haircut before the orders kicked in.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new plan Thursday. It is the most restrictive order since he imposed the country’s first statewide stay-at-home rule in March. But the situation is bleaker than in March.
“The risk of contracting COVID in the community now is higher now than it has ever been,” Dr. Eric McDonald, the medical director for San Diego County, told reporters Saturday. He and other officials urged the public to bear down, heed the rules and help the state get through the latest and worst wave of cases the state has seen.
California has tallied a staggering total of 1.3 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started, setting a new daily record on Friday when 25,068 confirmed cases were recorded.
Newsom's new order bars all on-site restaurant dining and closes hair and nail salons, movie theaters and many other businesses, as well as museums and playgrounds. It says people may not congregate with anyone outside their household and must always wear masks when they go outside.
Schools that are currently open can continue to provide in-person instruction; retailers including supermarkets and shopping centers can operate with just 20% customer capacity.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Coronavirus infections across the U.S. have continued to rise as the country moves deeper into a holiday season when eagerly anticipated gatherings of family and friends could push the numbers even higher. The seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 attributable deaths has passed 2,000 for the first time since spring.
Washington's Department of Health reported 1,503 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the state's totals to 175,793 cases and at least 2,925 deaths, meaning 1.7% of people diagnosed in Washington have died.
Californians have come under sweeping new restrictions on businesses and activities, as officials desperately try to slow the frighteningly rapid escalation of coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm hospitals. Five Bay Area counties imposed a new stay-at-home order that takes effect today.
Unemployment has forced aching decisions on millions of Americans and their families in the face of a rampaging viral pandemic that has closed shops and restaurants, paralyzed travel and left millions jobless for months. And their predicaments stand to grow bleaker yet if Congress fails to extend two unemployment programs that are set to expire the day after Christmas.
The Oregon Medical Board has indefinitely suspended the medical license of a doctor who said at a pro-Trump rally that he doesn’t wear a mask at his Dallas, Oregon clinic and doesn’t require his staff to wear face-coverings either.
The Seahawks’ standing as the only NFL team to not have a player on the NFL’s Reserve/COVID-19 list came to an end Saturday when they placed defensive tackle Bryan Mone on the list.
Saturday's major early-season NCAA men's basketball contest between top-rated Gonzaga and second-ranked Baylor was canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests of Gonzaga players.
NBA teams that do not comply with league rules designed to minimize the spread of the coronavirus this season could face major penalties, such as forfeiting games or draft picks, the professional basketball league told its franchises Saturday.
When children and teens are overwhelmed with anxiety, depression or thoughts of self-harm, they often wait days in emergency rooms because there aren’t enough psychiatric beds. The problem has only grown worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports from parents and professionals suggest.
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