Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, December 8, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
A Canadian drugmaker will be seeking approval from health regulators for its plant-based COVID-19 vaccine, which was 71% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in a large, late-stage study.
The World Health Organization advised against using the plasma of people who recovered from COVID-19 as a treatment for patients who are battling the virus. The United Nations health agency said plasma transfusions are costly, time-consuming, and have not shown to improve a patient’s chance for survival or reduce their need for a ventilator.
An early study found that the antibodies of vaccinated individuals were less successful in preventing the spread of omicron when compared to other COVID-19 variants, suggesting that even vaccinated people may be vulnerable to breakthrough infections. Though vaccinated people may still be vulnerable to breakthrough cases, the data also shows that those who have received a booster shot may be better protected than those who remain unvaccinated.
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.
New COVID-19 antibody drug OK’d to protect most vulnerable
Federal health officials on Wednesday authorized a new COVID-19 antibody drug for people with serious health problems or allergies who can’t get adequate protection from vaccination.
Antibody drugs have been a standard treatment for treating COVID-19 infections for over a year. But the AstraZeneca antibody drug cleared by the Food and Drug Administration is different. It’s the first intended for long-term prevention against COVID-19 infection, rather than a short-term treatment.
People who could benefit from the antibody drug include cancer patients, organ transplant recipients and people taking immune-suppressing drugs for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Health experts estimate about 2% to 3% of the U.S. population falls into that group.
“These people still have to shelter in place because they’re at really high risk of severe disease and death,” said Dr. David Boulware of the University of Minnesota, ahead of the announcement. “So having this therapy will enable a lot of them to get back to their normal lives.”
UN secretary-general in isolation after coronavirus contact
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is isolating after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that Guterres has shown no symptoms and tested negative for the virus Tuesday afternoon.
“Out of an abundance of caution, he has canceled all his engagements for today and is working from home until he is tested again tomorrow,” the spokesman said.
Among the events Guterres planned to skip was Wednesday night’s annual awards dinner of the United Nations Correspondents Association, where he had been scheduled to be the guest of honor.
WHO: Omicron could spread faster but it’s still not certain
The World Health Organization says early evidence suggests the omicron variant may be spreading faster than the highly transmissible delta variant but brings with it less severe coronavirus disease -– though it’s too early to make firm conclusions.
The comments come among swirling concerns about the new variant that first emerged in southern Africa last month, prompting some countries to shut their borders and rattling stock markets fearful of the long-term impact of a possible new variant of the virus that has already infected at least 267 million people and killed more than 5.2 million.
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s chief of emergencies, told reporters Wednesday that data about the omicron variant so far is “pointing to a virus that’s efficiently transmitting and probably more efficiently transmitting than even the delta variant,” which is by far the most widespread and deadly version.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for COVID-19 at the U.N. health agency, cautioned that it was too early to determine the severity of disease caused by omicron, saying there’s only “anecdotal information” about that for now.
Kentucky Congressman Guthrie tests positive for COVID-19
Republican U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms, he said Wednesday.
“Out of an abundance of caution, I took a COVID-19 test, and it came back positive today,” he said in a news release. “I am glad I decided to get fully vaccinated, and I am experiencing mild symptoms.”
Guthrie, who was elected from Kentucky’s 2nd District in 2008, said his offices in the district and in Washington remain open.
Senate rejects Biden’s vaccine mandate for businesses
The Senate narrowly approved a resolution Wednesday to nullify the Biden administration’s requirement that businesses with 100 or more workers have their employees be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly testing.
The vote was 52-48. The Democratic-led House is unlikely to take the measure up, which means the mandate would stand, though courts have put it on hold for now. Still, the vote gave senators a chance to voice opposition to a policy that they say has sparked fears back home from businesses and from unvaccinated constituents who worry about losing their jobs should the rule go into effect.
“Every so often Washington D.C. does something that lights up the phone lines. This is one of these moments,” said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. At home, he said, “this issue is what I hear about. This issue is a top-of-mind issue.”
Lawmakers can invalidate certain federal agency regulations if a joint resolution is approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the president, or if Congress overrides a presidential veto. That’s unlikely to happen in this case.
The AP Interview: CDC chief says omicron mostly mild so far
More than 40 people in the U.S. have been found to be infected with the omicron variant so far, and more than three-quarters of them had been vaccinated, the chief of the CDC said Wednesday. But she said nearly all of them were only mildly ill.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data is very limited and the agency is working on a more detailed analysis of what the new mutant form of the coronavirus might hold for the U.S.
“What we generally know is the more mutations a variant has, the higher level you need your immunity to be. … We want to make sure we bolster everybody’s immunity. And that’s really what motivated the decision to expand our guidance,” Walensky said, referencing the recent approval of boosters for all adults.
She said “the disease is mild” in almost all of the cases seen so far, with reported symptoms mainly cough, congestion and fatigue. One person was hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported, CDC officials said.
State health officials confirm 1,225 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,225 new coronavirus cases and 37 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 787,245 cases and 9,497 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. Tuesday.
In addition, 43,516 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 90 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 175,564 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,099 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,092,965 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 27,326 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.
The coronavirus attacks fat tissue, scientists find
From the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus seemed to target people carrying extra pounds. Patients who were overweight or obese were more likely to develop severe COVID-19 and more likely to die.
Although these patients often have health conditions like diabetes that compound their risk, scientists have become increasingly convinced that their vulnerability has something to do with obesity itself.
Now researchers have found that the coronavirus infects both fat cells and certain immune cells within body fat, prompting a damaging defensive response in the body.
“The bottom line is, ‘Oh, my God, indeed, the virus can infect fat cells directly,’ ” said Philipp Scherer, a scientist who studies fat cells at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who was not involved in the research.
Two years into COVID, world is dangerously unprepared for next pandemic, report says
Nearly two years into a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, every country, including the United States, remains dangerously unprepared to respond to future epidemic and pandemic threats, according to a report released Wednesday assessing the efforts of 195 countries.
Researchers compiling the Global Health Security Index — a project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a D.C.-based nonprofit global security group, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health — found insufficient capacity in every country, which they said left the world vulnerable to future health emergencies, including some that might be more devastating than COVID-19.
The assessment of each country’s ability to prevent, detect and respond to health emergencies in 2021 was based on public information. Researchers also weighed other factors, such as public confidence in government. The average country score for 2021 was 38.9 out of a possible 100 points, essentially unchanged from 2019. No country scored above 75.9.
The United States, with its vast wealth and scientific capability, maintained its top overall ranking — it was also No. 1 when the first index was released in 2019. But the United States also scored lowest on public confidence in government, a key factor associated with high numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths. That factor may explain why other countries that received top marks in 2019 also responded poorly during the pandemic.
Over nearly two years, the report said, U.S. politicians have questioned the motives and messages of health officials and debated the seriousness of the virus and the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. “The result: in many areas of the country, people have been unwilling to comply with public health recommendations that would slow the spread of the virus.”
The other countries in the top 10: Australia, Finland, Canada, Thailand, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea and Sweden.
A child with COVID was sent to school. Then 75 classmates had to quarantine.
Dozens of elementary school students were forced to quarantine over the Thanksgiving holiday because one family knowingly sent a child to school after the child contracted COVID-19, public health and school district officials said.
The child attended Neil Cummins Elementary School in Corte Madera, near San Francisco, for seven days in November while infected with COVID-19, said Brett Geithman, superintendent of Larkspur-Corte Madera School District in Marin County. As a result, about 75 students had to quarantine, and seven of them tested positive for the virus.
“This family’s decision to send their children to school — knowing that one of them had COVID — was reckless. It jeopardized the health and safety of our entire school community,” he added.
Marin County Public Health officer Matt Willis told CNN that “because of the seriousness of this violation,” the case has been referred to the district attorney.
Dentist presents fake arm for vaccine to get pass
A dentist in Italy faces possible criminal charges after trying to receive a coronavirus vaccine in a fake arm made of silicone.
A nurse in the northern city of Biella, Filippa Bua, said the phony limb didn't deceive her but she initially thought the 57-year-old man was an amputee and had mistakenly offered the wrong arm.
The nurse said the man acknowledged he did not want a vaccine but to obtain a “super” health pass, which from Monday will be required to enter restaurants, cinemas, theaters and other venues in Italy.
COVID cases spike even as US hits 200M vaccine milestone
The number of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached 200 million Wednesday amid a dispiriting holiday-season spike in cases and hospitalizations that has hit even New England, one of the most highly inoculated corners of the country.
New cases in the U.S. climbed from an average of nearly 95,000 a day on Nov. 22 to almost 119,000 a day this week, and hospitalizations are up 25% from a month ago. The increases are due almost entirely to the delta variant, though the omicron mutation has been detected in about 20 states and is sure to spread even more.
Deaths are running close to 1,600 a day on average, back up to where they were in October. And the overall U.S. death toll less than two years into the crisis could hit another heartbreaking milestone, 800,000, in a matter of days.
The situation is not as dire as last year’s holiday-season surge, before the public had access to COVID-19 vaccines, but the 60% of the U.S. population that is fully vaccinated has not been enough to prevent hot spots.
US businesses advertised near-record 11 million open jobs
U.S. employers posted 11 million open jobs in October, nearly matching a record high reached in July and a sign that companies were confident enough in the economy to expand.
A government report Wednesday also showed that the number of people quitting their jobs dropped slightly in October to 4.2 million, from 4.4 million in September, though that is still the third-highest number of monthly resignations on records dating back to 2000.
The figures from the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, show job-seekers have the most bargaining power they have had in at least two decades.
There were just 7.4 million people counted as unemployed in October, equal to just two-thirds of the 11 million open jobs. Before the pandemic, there were usually more unemployed people than available workers. The number of available factory jobs jumped 6% in October, to just over 1 million, more than double the pre-pandemic level and the highest on record.
Norway caps indoor gatherings to ward off coronavirus
The Norwegian government is introducing a 10-person limit for gatherings at private homes to counter an uptick in COVID-19 cases, although the number will be increased to 20 on Christmas and New Year’s eves. It also is capping attendance at public events without assigned seating at 50.
In addition, the government said late Tuesday it was advising people in Norway to work from home when possible and reintroducing a social distancing requirement of 3.3 feet at restaurants.
“We consider the situation as being serious. Both delta and omicron infections are increasing in Norway. The number of people who are admitted to hospitals and intensive care units is increasing,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said.
WHO: Weekly COVID cases dip in Europe after weeks of gains
The World Health Organization’s European region has recorded a slight drop in both COVID-19 cases and deaths last week after facing a string of weekly increases.
The U.N. health agency also noted European Center for Disease Prevention and Control figures showing that as of Monday, all the 212 confirmed cases of the omicron variant identified across 18 European Union countries up to that point had turned up asymptomatic or mild disease.
WHO said in its weekly epidemiological that the weekly number of new cases in its 53-country European region fell 2% to more than 2.6 million new cases reported over the last week — with Germany and Britain recording the most — and 29,000 new deaths over the period — a decline of 3% from the previous week.
The incidence of cases in Europe had been rising since mid-October, WHO said.
Globally, WHO said case incidence “plateaued” over the last week with more than 4 million new cases reported, though the count of new weekly deaths rose 10% to more than 52,500. The United States had the most new weekly cases, at more than 752,000, marking a 30% jump from the figure a week earlier.
Cases shot up in Africa — which has had by far the fewest cases of any of WHO’s six regions so far — by 79% to more than 6.3 million cases total since the beginning of the pandemic. But there were 498 deaths in the Africa region for the week, a decline of 13% from the previous week.
UK’s Johnson orders probe of staff party during lockdown
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday ordered an inquiry and said he was “furious” after a leaked video showed senior members of his staff joking about holding a lockdown-breaching Christmas party last year.
The video poured fuel on allegations that government officials flouted coronavirus rules they imposed on everyone else.
“I understand and share the anger up and down the country” at staff members seeming to make light of lockdown rules, Johnson said.
“I was also furious to see that clip,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
For days, the prime minister’s office has been trying to rebut reports that Johnson’s staff held an office holiday party — complete with wine, food, games and a festive gift exchange — on Dec. 18, 2020, when pandemic regulations banned most social gatherings.
South Korea’s daily virus jump exceeds 7,000 for 1st time
New coronavirus infections in South Korea exceeded 7,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic on Wednesday as hours-long lines snaked around testing stations in the capital Seoul amid a worsening virus crisis.
More than 5,600 of the new 7,175 cases were reported in Seoul and the nearby metropolitan region, where a delta-driven surge has led to a shortage of hospital beds and strained an already depleted health care workforce.
The country’s death toll exceeded 4,000 after 63 virus patients died in the past 24 hours. The 840 patients in serious or critical conditions were an all-time high, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.
“... The viral spread has been fierce,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, Seoul’s No. 2 behind President Moon Jae-in, said during a virus meeting.
Officials have been scrambling to administer booster shots and they are monitoring a larger number of mild cases at home to preserve hospital beds for patients who are sicker.
With vaccine resistance high, Poland faces surge of deaths
Poland and several other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are battling their latest surges of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to record much lower vaccinations rates than in Western Europe.
In Russia, more than 1,200 people with COVID-19 died every day for most of November and on several days in December, and the daily death toll remains over 1,100. Ukraine, which is recording hundreds of virus deaths a day, is emerging from its deadliest period of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the mortality rate in Poland, while lower than it was in spring, recently climbed to more than 500 deaths per day and still has not peaked. On Wednesday, the country reported 592 more virus deaths, the highest number of its current wave and bringing the pandemic death toll to nearly 87,000 in the nation of 38 million.
Intensive care units are full, and doctors report that more and more children require hospitalization, including some who went through COVID-19 without symptoms but then suffered strokes.
Austria to end lockdown on Sunday but not for unvaccinated
Austria’s fourth national lockdown of the pandemic will end on Sunday but lockdown restrictions will remain for unvaccinated people, the country’s new chancellor said Wednesday.
Chancellor Karl Nehammer said the end of the lockdown will be a “opening with a seatbelt,” meaning some measures — such as an obligation to wear masks on public transportation and inside stores and public spaces — will stay in place also for people who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19. There will also be an 11 p.m. curfew for restaurants and limits on the number of people attending cultural events.
Stricter measures can be implemented independently by regions that are especially affected by the pandemic, Nehammer said.
Nehammer stressed that unvaccinated people could end their lockdowns immediately by getting the jab, but also acknowledged that “it still takes a lot of convincing to get those who haven’t even been vaccinated yet.”
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Pfizer's booster shot may protect against omicron, the company said this morning — but the initial two doses appear significantly less effective. This came after a study offered good news and bad about how vaccinated people might fare against the fast-spreading variant.
More than 3,500 Seattle child-care workers will get extra payments this month for their work on the pandemic's front lines.
Judges have slammed the brakes on all three federal vaccine mandates affecting the private sector. In the latest case, a judge yesterday blocked President Joe Biden's requirement for federal contractors, but it isn't over yet. Catch up on what courts have said about Biden’s mandates.
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