Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, December 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
While more cases of omicron are reported around the globe, the European Union’s drug agency recommended the approval of anti-inflammatory medicine RoActemra, normally used to treat different types of arthritis, to be used to treat people hospitalized with severe COVID-19. The drug helps level out a protein found in excess in people with COVID-19.
As holidays near, several countries are reevaluating safety measures in advance of a potential rise in virus cases. Italy began requiring vaccination proof on Monday from individuals looking to dine in restaurants, attend theaters or visit other public spaces.
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.
Pfizer vaccine gives some protection against omicron, early study shows
A report out of South Africa offered a first glimpse at how vaccinated people might fare against the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Laboratory experiments found that omicron seems to dull the power of the Pfizer vaccine, but also hinted that people who have received a booster shot might be better protected.
The study, published online Tuesday, found that antibodies produced by vaccinated people were much less successful at keeping the omicron variant from infecting cells than other forms of the coronavirus.
Scientists said the results were somewhat worrisome, but no cause for panic. The data suggests that vaccinated people might be vulnerable to breakthrough infections with omicron, which is spreading rapidly in South Africa and has appeared in dozens of countries around the world.
High court to hear pastor’s case against virus charges
Louisiana’s Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will hear arguments in a pastor’s fight against criminal charges he faces for violations of pandemic gathering limits that were in effect last year.
Tony Spell got national attention when he began to flout the state’s public health order in March 2020 at a time when much of the country was in lockdown due to the emergence of COVID-19. Louisiana was being hit especially hard at the time, but hundreds showed up to hear Spell claim that the virus, which has now killed more than 780,000 Americans, is nothing to be concerned about.
A state judge earlier this year had refused to throw out the charges against Spell, whose Life Tabernacle Church is in the Baton Rouge area.
An appeal court agreed. But the state Supreme Court accepted the case for arguments Tuesday. A hearing date hasn’t been set.
Omicron and Travel: So, Now Do I Need Trip Insurance?
While the pandemic has depressed travel, it may have encouraged travel insurance, say those in the industry.
“The biggest question we get from customers is: ‘What happens if I get COVID during travel and what if I have to quarantine?’” said Jeremy Murchland, the president of Seven Corners, a travel insurance management company. “COVID has created a much broader awareness of travel insurance.”
But will it help you in light of the new omicron variant, which has already led to new travel restrictions and requirements? In the early days of the pandemic, travel insurance largely failed to protect travelers who wanted or needed to cancel as the world shut down.
The following are answers to common questions about travel insurance now.
Spain approves COVID vaccine for children in 5-11 age group
Spain’s health ministry gave the go-ahead Tuesday for children between ages 5 and 11 to be vaccinated against COVID-19 amid a rise in coronavirus infections in recent weeks.
The Spanish health ministry tweeted news of the approval, following the decision of an expert committee. The rollout is due to begin Dec. 15, two days after the first of 3.2 million child vaccines arrive in Spain.
Austria has been inoculating children since the European Union’s drug regulator on Nov. 25 authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for use on that age group. Greece will also begin on Dec. 15 and Italy will start on Dec. 16, among others.
The European Medicines Agency’s decision opened the way for jabs to be administered to millions of elementary school pupils across the continent.
Armed gangs raise risks in vaccinating rural Nigerians
Yunusa Bawa rolled his motorcycle away from the health care clinic where he works in Kuje, southwest of Nigeria’s capital of Abuja, and secured a black box of COVID-19 vaccine for the rough ride ahead.
The rocky and rugged pathway — Bawa described it as a road that “will make you tired” — was the least of his worries. Kidnapping along the route by armed gangs is rampant, he added.
But such trips are essential if Africa’s most populous country is to reach its ambitious goal of fully vaccinating 55 million of its 206 million people in the next two months.
As the emergence of the omicron variant underscores the importance of inoculating more people to prevent new mutations of the coronavirus, Nigeria also is facing a difficult path: Only 3.78 million are fully vaccinated.
State health officials confirm 1,944 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,944 new coronavirus cases and 24 new deaths on Tuesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 786,042 cases and 9,460 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. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on weekends.
In addition, 43,426 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 105 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 175,350 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,094 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,023,256 doses and 61.9% 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 24,255 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.
Belgian health workers rally to oppose mandatory vaccines
Thousands of Belgian health care workers rallied Tuesday in Brussels to oppose mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and to demand better working conditions as a surge in new cases weighs heavily on hospitals.
Around 4,000 people – some with placards reading “Save your nurse, one day she will be the one saving you,” or “My body, my choice” – took part in the march, according to police in Belgium’s capital.
The noisy rally ended outside the Belgian health ministry, where police at one point used pepper spray to keep some demonstrators away. There were no reports of injuries.
Starting Jan. 1, health care workers in Belgium will have a three-month window in which to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those who remain unvaccinated will be notified that their contracts will be suspended unless they provide a certificate proving recovery from COVID-19 or a recent negative test.
Surgeon general warns of emerging youth mental health crisis in rare public advisory
Citing mounting evidence of ongoing harm, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy on Tuesday issued a public health advisory on the mental health challenges confronting youth, a rare warning and call to action to address what he called an emerging crisis exacerbated by pandemic hardships.
Symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms, according to Murthy’s 53-page advisory. There also appear to be increases in negative emotions or behaviors such as impulsivity and irritability — associated with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.
And, in early 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same time period in early 2019, according to research cited in the advisory.
“It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place,” Murthy said in a preface to the advisory. “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable.”
Seattle-area traffic increasing, but still below pre-pandemic levels
It’s not just your imagination – traffic congestion is slowly returning to Seattle-area roads. But while we’re no longer in the quietest days of the pandemic, delays on the region’s highways, byways and arterials are still well below those of 2019, according to a new report from Kirkland-based Inrix, which collects and analyzes traffic data.
When compared to driving on empty roads, the average driver in the Seattle region lost 30 hours to traffic congestion in 2021. That’s up from 25 hours the year before, but still far below the 74 hours estimated in 2019.
Trips to downtown Seattle remain depressed at 36% fewer than in 2019, a sign of the protracted pandemic and on-again, off-again plans from large employers to bring their workers back to the office.
“There was talk about Carmageddon last year, about people avoiding transit and hopping in their car and just driving a bunch of miles,” said Bob Pishue, an analyst for Inrix. “What this shows is that that didn’t happen and it’s probably not likely to happen…. It’s more of a gradual return for the country.”
Although increased since last year, Seattle’s traffic congestion is still 60% below 2019 levels, which is a slower return than many U.S. cities. Where it was the country’s 15th slowest region in 2020, it’s now the 21st. Southern cities like Miami and New Orleans are creeping back toward their previous levels of traffic at just 20% down from pre-COVID levels. Las Vegas, meanwhile, was actually more congested in 2021 than it was in 2019.
Pishue suggested that the presence of tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon means the Seattle region may not be under the same pressure to return to the roads. Just as those companies were among the first to shutter their offices in 2020, their employees are now well-accustomed to remote work today.
Washington auditor: Lax oversight enabled $315,000 unemployment fraud by state worker
In April 2020, Reyes De La Cruz III, a Moses Lake man who was facing a felony theft charge at the time, was hired by the state unemployment agency to help process the wave of jobless claims spurred by the pandemic.
But due to lax oversight at the Employment Security Department, De La Cruz was able to defraud Washington of at least $315,000 in jobless benefits, a new investigation by the state auditor’s office has found.
Prosecutors contend De La Cruz, who was arrested Sept. 24 and has pleaded not guilty to a 20-count federal indictment, used his position as an unemployment insurance specialist to siphon off tens of thousands of dollars in benefits. He was able to do so at least in part because ESD wasn’t reviewing all his work, according to the auditor’s report released Monday. De La Cruz was fired in October 2020, and ESD notified federal authorities and the state auditor’s office.
ESD’s “internal controls were inadequate to detect and prevent occupational misappropriation and safeguard public resources,” said the report, the latest inquiry into the $650 million fraud wave that upended Washington’s unemployment system in the early months of the pandemic.
CDC issues ‘very high’ risk warning for travel to France, Portugal
Federal health authorities issued a warning Monday against travel to several European countries as well as Jordan and Tanzania amid growing fears of the omicron variant, telling people to make sure they are fully vaccinated if they must visit.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said to avoid travel to France, Portugal, Cyprus, Andorra and Liechtenstein, grouping all in a Level 4 category that represents a “very high” level of the coronavirus. Countries and territories in this group have an infection incidence rate of more than 500 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 28 days (or, in places with fewer than 100,000 residents, more than 500 cases cumulatively over the past 28 days).
“Because of the current situation in France, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants,” one advisory reads.
Last week, the CDC urged against travel to Niger, Papua New Guinea, Poland, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The CDC also recently told airlines to share contact information for people entering the United States who have been in southern Africa, where the omicron variant was initially identified. Previously, the CDC had ordered airlines and aircraft operators to collect contact details on passengers and asked that they share it with federal health authorities “upon request,” to aid public health follow-up.
Worries that omicron could prove more transmissible and more resistant to vaccinations have triggered a cascade of travel restrictions around the world. But many experts question the value of travel bans, and the World Health Organization has urged against them.
Trump’s Blood Oxygen Level in COVID Bout Was Dangerously Low, Former Aide Says
President Donald Trump’s blood oxygen level sank to a precariously low level after he announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus last year, according to a new book by Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff.
The new details contradict Trump’s denials this year that his COVID bout was more dire than White House medical officials had acknowledged at the time.
Meadows’ book, titled “The Chief’s Chief,” goes on sale Tuesday. He describes his tenure in the White House, alternately promoting Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him and attacking the news media. Meadows also revealed previously undisclosed details about the former president’s medical condition in October 2020.
Trump, who has long been fearful of appearing weak, has tried to camouflage those details. The White House staff and members of his medical team aided that effort, publicly downplaying how sick he was at the time. The former president denied a detailed New York Times report this year that he was more ill than his aides had revealed, with depressed oxygen levels and lung infiltrates, which occur when they are inflamed and filled with fluid or bacteria.
Poland to require vaccine shots for teachers, medics, police
Poland is introducing mandatory vaccinations by March 1 for teachers, medical workers, and uniformed security workers like police, the military, firefighters and security guards.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Tuesday that after March 1, vaccination will be a condition for jobs in these sectors. He said amid a continuing high level of daily new infections of some 23,000, Poland was following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria in requiring vaccine jabs for these three professional groups.
He said starting Dec. 15, the number of guests at hotels, restaurants, eateries, theaters and churches is being reduced to 30% capacity from the current 50%, and can be increased only for people who can prove they are vaccinated. Discos and nightclubs will be closed.
German parliament to debate job-specific vaccine mandate
Germany’s parliament is set to debate a proposed vaccine mandate for hospital and nursing home staff on Tuesday, among other measures meant to help break the country’s biggest wave so far of coronavirus infections.
At a special session, parliament’s lower house also will discuss plans for vaccinations to be performed in future not just by doctors at vaccination centers and practices, but also by dentists or pharmacists. The aim is to pass the new regulations later this week and have parliament’s upper house, which represents Germany’s 16 state governments, approve them on Friday.
At least 69.1% of Germans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, short of the government’s aim of a minimum 75% vaccination rate. The number of unvaccinated has been blamed as a key factor in a surge of new virus cases in recent weeks.
Official figures suggest that the infection rate may have leveled out or be decreasing slightly, but new infections are still high and Germany is seeing more deaths.
Canadian drugmaker says its COVID-19 vaccine is effective
A Canadian drugmaker said its plant-based COVID-19 vaccine showed strong protection against the virus and will soon seek authorization at home and elsewhere.
Medicago announced Tuesday that its two-dose vaccine was 71% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in a large, late-stage study that included several variants including the delta variant. The company’s results did not include the emerging omicron variant, which wasn’t circulating during the study period.
The Quebec City company said it will seek Canadian approval “imminently” and has also begun the process to file with regulators in the U.S., U.K. and other countries. The company said it’s also preparing to send its data to the World Health Organization.
Medicago uses plants as living factories to grow virus-like particles, which mimic the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. British partner GlaxoSmithKline contributes an immune-boosting chemical called an adjuvant to the vaccine.
While numerous COVID-19 vaccines have been rolled out around the world, global health authorities are looking to additional candidates in hopes of increasing the supply in developing countries. As the omicron variant spreads, experts have warned that the coronavirus will continue to thrive as long as vast parts of the world aren’t vaccinated.
WHO Europe: Kids in 5-14 age group show highest COVID rates
The World Health Organization’s office for Europe said Tuesday that children in the 5 to 14 age group now account for the highest rates of reported COVID-19 infection in the region.
WHO Europe regional director Dr. Hans Kluge said that coronavirus cases and deaths have more than doubled in the last two months in the 53-country region stretching to central Asia.
Kluge urged countries to “protect children and the schools” amid the rapid increase in cases among the young in the region, and said the incidence of COVID-19 was two to three times higher among young children than the average population in some places. Children have tended to face less severe cases than more vulnerable populations like older people, health care workers and people with weaker immune systems.
WHO’s European region has the global epicenter of the pandemic for weeks, accounting for 70% of cases and 61 percent of deaths worldwide according to the U.N. health agency’s weekly epidemiological report issued last week.
Omicron raises vaccine questions a year after first Pfizer shot
One year ago, a grandmother named Margaret Keenan, then 90 years old, rolled up her sleeve at University Hospital Coventry in the English midlands to take her place in history.
Keenan became the first person in the world to receive Pfizer’s Covid vaccine outside a clinical trial. It was a turning point in the pandemic, raising hopes that there was a path out of the crisis, along with questions about how well the rapidly-created shots would perform.
Now, after 8 billion doses, the impact is clear. The vaccines – not just from Pfizer but also Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and others – have slashed hospitalizations and deaths in countries where they’ve been rolled out widely. In Europe alone, research shows they’ve saved about half a million lives among people age 60 and over.
But they haven’t vanquished the virus. Cases have quadrupled in the past year, vast parts of the globe haven’t gained access to vaccines and concerning variants keep emerging, bringing new waves of infections, the return of lockdowns and restrictions on travel.
And now, two years into the pandemic, there is omicron, a heavily mutated variant that emerged in recent weeks. It’s put the world on edge, leaving everyone desperately waiting for information on the severity of the strain and how well vaccines will work against it.
“Vaccines are a major miracle of modern science,” said Sarah Pitt, a virologist at the University of Brighton in England. But some governments “decided they were going to vaccinate their way out of the pandemic. What we’ll do is vaccinate everybody, and it will all be fine. Of course, that was never going to work.”
WHO advises against use of survivors’ plasma to treat COVID
Experts at the World Health Organization recommended Tuesday against using blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 as a treatment for patients with the illness, saying evidence has not shown the costly, time-consuming transfusions to be effective in preventing severe illness or death.
The guidance against the use of convalescent plasma, a component of blood that is rich in antibodies, was published in the British Medical Journal based on results from 16 trials involving more than 16,000 patients with varying degrees of coronavirus infection, WHO said.
“Despite its initial promise, current evidence shows that it does not improve survival nor reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, and it is costly and time-consuming to administer,” the U.N. health agency said.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Travel warnings are growing as omicron spreads. The CDC yesterday issued a "very high" risk warning for travel to several European countries as well as Jordan and Tanzania. So should you get trip insurance? It depends on your situation, and you'll want to pay attention to the fine print.
The U.S. now requires all travelers, including Americans, to show proof of a negative coronavirus test when they enter the country. But not all tests will meet this requirement. Here's how to find the right one and avoid paying an exorbitant price for it.
The battle between omicron and delta may determine the future of the pandemic. Some scientists poring over the early data suggest omicron could emerge the victor as it spreads "extraordinarily fast." So what would that would mean for public health? Here's what is known, and what isn't.
Google and Uber have delayed workers' return to offices — not to another date, but indefinitely. They're among the first major U.S. employers to do so as the omicron variant creates new uncertainty in the work world.
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