Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, December 9, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
U.S. health officials approved the use of the AstraZeneca antibody drug for individuals who have serious health problems or allergies and can’t receive adequate protection against the COVID-19 from the vaccine.
Though health professionals have found omicron to be highly contagious, the estimated 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. have all resulted in mild illness, and no deaths linked to the variant have been reported, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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.
Fauci says delta variant, not omicron, is the bigger coronavirus threat this winter
The omicron variant of the coronavirus will likely be less severe than the delta variant, which remains the “real problem” for Americans this winter, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday.
In an interview with McClatchy, Fauci said the country is “already seeing a resurgence of cases” and warned that 60 million Americans remain unvaccinated.
“I think we have enough problems with delta,” said Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“People keep talking about a winter wave with omicron — we’re still getting over 100,000 cases a day,” he said, referring to the delta variant. “We have around 50,000 people in the hospital. We have close to 1,400 deaths per day. I think we really better focus on what our real problem is, and our real problem is delta right now.”
COVID-19 reunion: Tearful patients, nurses share memories
Brian Patnoe never saw the faces of the masked health care workers who nursed him back to health from the coronavirus that nearly killed him. But he knew each by their eyes, which peered out through layers of protective gear as he lay in their hospital’s COVID-19 unit.
He was reunited Thursday with some of those who treated him for weeks after he arrived at Providence Mission Hospital in March 2020, just as the virus was descending on California. They still wore masks and he still recognized them.
“It’s amazing how I saw all the eyes and I was like, ‘I know you, I know you, I know you,’” the 62-year-old Patnoe said, his own eyes welling with tears while embracing each of a half-dozen nurses who lined up to greet him outside the hospital in Southern California’s Mission Viejo. “Oh, my God, thank you guys for keeping me alive.”
Patnoe and other coronavirus survivors held an emotional reunion with the nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors who saved their lives at a time when little was known about the virus. They shared hugs, memories and photos at an event marking the hospital’s 50th anniversary and added items to a time capsule created so future generations will remember the pandemic. It’s to be opened in 2071.
Pandemic-induced ‘excess savings’ are dwindling for many Americans
Infusions of government cash that warded off an economic calamity have left millions of households with bigger bank balances than before the pandemic — savings that have driven a torrent of consumer spending, helped pay off debts and, at times, reduced the urgency of job hunts.
But many low-income Americans find their savings dwindling or even depleted. And for them, the economic recovery is looking less buoyant.
Over the past 18 months or so, experts have been closely tracking the multitrillion-dollar increase in what economists call “excess savings,” generally defined as the amount by which people’s cash reserves during the COVID-19 crisis exceeded what they would have normally saved.
According to Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm, these excess savings among many working- and middle-class households could be exhausted as soon as early next year — not only reducing their financial cushions but also potentially affecting the economy, since consumer spending is such a large share of activity. Additionally, many pandemic-era federal programs expired in September, including the federal supplement to unemployment benefits.
Slovakia to pay people over 60 if they are vaccinated
Slovakia’s Parliament approved a plan on Thursday to give people 60 and older up to 300 euros ($339) if they are vaccinated against COVID-19.
The measure drafted by Finance Minister Igor Matovic should boost inoculations in the European Union country with one of the bloc’s lowest vaccination rates. It should also help the struggling health care system amid a record surge of new infections.
So far, only 46.5% of the nation’s 5.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.
In the 97-13 vote, lawmakers agreed that those who have received at least one primary dose of the vaccine by Jan. 15 will receive 200 euros ($226) in cash, and those who have received a booster by that date will get 300 euros.
House approves extension of Native corporation relief funds
The U.S. House has passed legislation to extend a year-end deadline for Alaska Native corporations and tribes to use federal coronavirus relief funds. But it isn’t the same bill that earlier passed the Senate.
Kaitlin Hooker, a spokesperson for Arizona Rep. Tom O’Halleran, said the House-passed measure O’Halleran sponsored now goes to the Senate. She noted the House has not considered the bill the Senate passed in October.
Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young, a cosponsor of the House bill, called for urgent Senate action.
“Indigenous people were some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and pulling the rug out from under them by letting an arbitrary deadline take away these needed resources is a flagrant violation of our federal trust responsibility,” he said.
State health officials confirm 1,632 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,632 new coronavirus cases and 38 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 788,877 cases and 9,535 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. Wednesday.
In addition, 43,599 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 83 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 175,910 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,105 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.
Danish leader questioned over mink cull driven by coronavirus fears
In Denmark, they are calling it “minkgate.”
A government decision last year to cull Denmark’s herd of 17 million minks for fear that infected animals could transmit the coronavirus to humans prompted a huge outcry in a country that had been the world’s top exporter of the high-quality mink skins commonly used in coats.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was grilled in Parliament about the decision last year by her government, which resulted in the loss of 5,000 jobs in Denmark — and also turned out to be illegal.
Testifying before a parliamentary investigation into the decision to cull the mink herd, Frederiksen denied knowing, as she has done before, that the government lacked the legal authority to order the slaughter of the entire population of the animals.
She said she was only made aware of this Nov. 8, 2020, days after she announced the government’s decision. The government later acknowledged that it only had legal powers to kill infected animals, prompting the minister of agriculture to resign.
Parliament has appointed an independent three-member commission to investigate the matter, and if it concludes that Frederiksen did not tell the truth about the legal questions, she could face impeachment.
US jobless claims at 52-year low amid seasonal volatility
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits plunged last week to the lowest level in 52 years, more evidence that the U.S. job market is recovering from last year’s coronavirus recession.
Unemployment claims dropped by 43,000 to 184,000 last week, the lowest since September 1969, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week moving average, which smooths out week-to-week ups and downs, fell below 219,000, lowest since the pandemic hit the United States hard in March 2020.
Seasonal volatility likely contributed to last week’s drop as the Labor Department adjusted the numbers to reflect job market fluctuations around the holidays, said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities. Before seasonal adjustments, claims actually rose by nearly 64,000 to almost 281,000.
Long COVID is destroying careers, leaving economic distress in its wake
Before the coronavirus ruined her plans, Tiffany Patino expected to be back at work by now. She and her boyfriend intended to move out of a basement in suburban Maryland, where his grandmother lets them stay for free, so they could raise their infant son in a place of their own. Maybe get a new car.
But Patino caught COVID-19 more than a year ago. Instead of getting better, chronic exhaustion and other symptoms persisted, delaying her return to a restaurant job and swamping her goal of financial independence. After reaching what she calls her “hell-iversary” last month, Patino remains unable to rejoin the workforce. With no income of her own, she’s exhausted, racked with pain, short of breath, forgetful, bloated, swollen, depressed.
At 28 years old, she can barely take her baby to the playground. “I go on a walk, and I have to use the stroller like a walker,” she said. “Whatever life I have right now, it’s more like surviving. I’m not living my dream. I’m living a nightmare.”
Across America, many of the nearly 50 million people infected with the coronavirus continue to suffer from some persistent symptoms, with a smaller subset experiencing such unbearable fatigue and other maladies that they can’t work, forcing them to drop out of the workforce, abandon careers and rack up huge debts.
Many people with long COVID, often referred to as “long haulers,” experience mild symptoms to begin with, then get stuck with months of chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, confusion and memory loss, erratic and racing heartbeats, radical spikes in blood pressure, painful rashes, shooting pains and gastrointestinal problems.
The government calls it post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2, or PASC. The National Institutes of Health is spending $1.15 billion to study the syndrome. The symptoms sometimes subside, lulling long haulers into a false sense of relief, only to come roaring back after they perform simple chores like vacuuming a living room or raking leaves.
Vaccine makers racing to update COVID shots, just in case
Vaccine makers are racing to update their COVID-19 shots against the newest coronavirus threat even before it’s clear a change is needed, just in case.
Experts doubt today’s shots will become useless but say it’s critical to see how fast companies could produce a reformulated dose and prove it works — because whatever happens with omicron, this newest mutant won’t be the last.
Omicron “is pulling the fire alarm. Whether it turns out to be a false alarm, it would be really good to know if we can actually do this — get a new vaccine rolled out and be ready,” said immunologist E. John Wherry of the University of Pennsylvania.
It’s too soon to know how vaccines will hold up against omicron. The first hints this week were mixed: Preliminary lab tests suggest two Pfizer doses may not prevent an omicron infection but they could protect against severe illness. And a booster shot may rev up immunity enough to do both.
Research shows huge benefit of COVID-19 booster shots
In research likely to galvanize U.S. support for booster shots, scientists found that Israel’s aggressive campaign to shore up waning coronavirus immunity with a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine has saved lives and reduced new infections across the age spectrum.
Booster shots drove down cases of severe COVID-19 and death in older Israelis and reduced infections in senior citizens and middle-aged adults, the research shows. But boosters prevented new infections most dramatically in 16- to 29-year-olds — a finding with potentially far-reaching implications.
During a period this fall when coronavirus infections in Israel were surging, older adolescents and adults under 50 who got a third shot of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 13 times less likely to test positive than their vaccinated peers who did not get the booster. That protective effect was seen starting two weeks after the third jab and continued for another few weeks until the study period ended.
Brazil to quarantine unvaccinated airline visitors
Brazil will require international travelers who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for five days in their city of destination after arriving by plane.
The decision issued by the ministries of health, justice, infrastructure and the government’s chief of staff was published in the nation’s official gazette on Thursday.
The administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, who is unvaccinated himself, will start enforcing the measure on Saturday. 11. It is unclear how effectively Brazil can or will track those required to quarantine.
The head of the country’s health regulator, Antonio Barra Torres, told The Associated Press that the policy will “mean discouragement of anti-vaccine tourism to Brazil.”
The quarantine requirement “is a deterrent and educational measure,” Torres said by phone.
UK: Time to work from home again; Omicron spreading quickly
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tighter restrictions Wednesday to stem the spread of the omicron variant, urging people in England to again work from home and mandating COVID-19 passes for entrance into nightclubs and large events.
Johnson said it was time to impose stricter measures to prevent a spike of hospitalizations and deaths as the new coronavirus variant spreads rapidly in the community.
“It has become increasingly clear that omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,” he said in a press conference. “Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of omicron could currently be between two and three days.”
Johnson said 568 cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed so far across the U.K., and “the true number is certain to be much higher.”
Australia’s deputy leader tests positive for virus in the US
ustralia’s Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said Thursday he’d tested positive for the coronavirus while traveling in Washington D.C.
Joyce, who is fully vaccinated, said in a Facebook post that he’d been experiencing mild symptoms and decided to get tested. He said he would remain in isolation while seeking further advice.
He said the remaining members of his traveling delegation had tested negative.
It wasn’t immediately clear what variant of the virus Joyce had contracted. Before arriving in the U.S., he’d traveled to London and met with top officials there as part of a 10-day trip to discuss his government’s plans for regulating social media.
Austrians who flout vaccine mandate face fines up to $4,000
Austria plans to impose fines of up to 3,600 euros (around $4,000) on people who flout a coronavirus vaccine mandate it aims to introduce in February for all residents age 14 and over, the health minister said Thursday.
The government announced last month that it would implement a general vaccine mandate early next year, becoming the first European country to do so. It has drawn up details of the draft legislation in recent weeks, with backing from two of the three opposition parties in parliament.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said that there will be exemptions for pregnant women — though he stressed that vaccinations are recommended for them too — for people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons, and for people who have recovered from COVID-19 in the previous six months.
The legislation is due to take effect on Feb. 1.
Italy dentist with fake silicone arm gets vaccine – for real
ROME — An Italian dentist who presented a fake arm for a COVID-19 vaccine says he has since gotten a shot and that the vaccine “is the best weapon we have against this terrible disease.”
Dr. Guido Russo faces possible criminal fraud charges for having worn an arm made out of silicone when he first showed up at a vaccine hub in the northern city of Biella. Italy has required doctors and nurses to be vaccinated since earlier this year.
Russo insisted during a Wednesday night appearance on Italian talk show La7 that he wasn’t trying to defraud the government or to dupe anyone because the arm was obviously not real. He said he wanted to make a personal protest against vaccine mandates.
Finland’s prime minister apologizes after partying all night despite coronavirus exposure
It was Saturday evening when Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin learned that a cabinet colleague and close contact had tested positive for the coronavirus. That information, however, did not derail her weekend plans, and the leader proceeded to party at a Helsinki nightclub until the wee hours, with photos showing her maskless in a crowd.
Marin, who is fully vaccinated, later apologized for what she described as an indiscretion, yet images from that night have since gone viral, prompting both outrage at what critics deemed irresponsible behavior and international admiration for the stamina of the world’s youngest prime minister, who stayed out until 4 a.m., according to one report.
The 36-year-old Social Democrat did not violate the country’s public health rules, as Finland does not require vaccinated people to quarantine. But guidance does “strongly recommend that you voluntarily avoid contact with people outside your household” while waiting for access to a test or results of one.
Marin said a staffer initially informed her that there was no need to quarantine because everyone exposed was vaccinated. She did not question that instruction, she said, because it was similar to the health agency’s guidelines.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
King County's first known omicron patient hadn't traveled recently, suggesting the variant has been spreading locally, the public health department said yesterday. Here's what we know about her and the omicron patients nationwide, most of whom are experiencing mild illness.
The coronavirus attacks fat tissue, new research indicates. More investigation is needed, but the study's authors say this may shed light on why some people are more vulnerable, and it could also point to new treatments that target body fat.
More than 200 million Americans — over 60% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, but that isn't enough to prevent hot spots as the U.S. heads toward a heartbreaking death-toll milestone.
A child tested positive but was sent to school anyway. Then 75 classmates had to quarantine.
Leaders in hot water: While one nation's prime minister is apologizing after partying all night despite her coronavirus exposure, another is fuming after a leaked video showed his senior staff members joking about breaching lockdown with a Christmas party.
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