The U.S. began its third year of the pandemic Saturday, among canceled or downsized New Year’s Eve festivities in major cities. Atlanta canceled its New Year’s Eve celebration amid a wave of new cases, but New York City held a much smaller celebration of just 15,000. In Canada, as multiple provinces reported surges in cases, Quebec officials announced they would impose a nighttime curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

In Seattle, a live fireworks and augmented reality show was held at the Space Needle during New Year’s Eve, but public viewings and crowds weren’t allowed at the Seattle Center.

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 and the world.

Navigating the pandemic

More

Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, January 1, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Advertising

Judge blocks COVID vaccine mandate for Head Start program

MONROE, La. — President Joe Biden cannot require teachers in the Head Start early education program to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a Louisiana federal judge ruled Saturday, handing a victory to 24 states that had sued the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty wrote that the Biden administration unlawfully bypassed Congress when ordering that workers in Head Start programs be vaccinated by Jan. 31 and that students 2 years or older be masked when indoors or when in close contact outdoors.

Head Start is a federally funded program that promotes education for children under the age of 6 who are from low-income families. More here.

—The Associated Press

1 in 3 Americans say violence against government can be justified, citing fears of political schism, pandemic

Phil Spampinato had never contemplated the question of whether violence against the government might be justified — at least not in the United States. But as he watched Republicans across the country move to reshape election laws in response to former President Donald Trump’s false fraud claims, the part-time engineering consultant from Dover, Delaware, said he began thinking differently about “defending your way of life.”

“Not too many years ago, I would have said that those conditions are not possible, and that no such violence is really ever appropriate,” said Spampinato, 73, an independent.

The notion of legitimate violence against the government had also not occurred to Anthea Ward, a mother of two in Michigan, until the past year — prompted by her fear that President Joe Biden would go too far to force her and her family to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“The world we live in now is scary,” said Ward, 32, a Republican. “I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but sometimes it feels like a movie. It’s no longer a war against Democrats and Republicans. It’s a war between good and evil.”

A year after a pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol in the worst attack on the home of Congress since it was burned by British forces in 1814, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds that about 1 in 3 Americans say they believe violence against the government can at times be justified. More here.

—Mariana Alfaro and Meryl Kornfield, The Washington Post

With omicron’s rise, Americans brace for return to school and work

In two short weeks, as 2021 ended, the omicron variant drove coronavirus case counts to record levels, upended air travel and left gaping staffing holes at police departments, firehouses and hospitals.

And that was at a time many people were off for the holiday season. Now comes Monday, with millions of Americans having traveled back home to start school and work again, and no one is sure of what comes next.

Most of the nation’s largest school districts have decided to forge ahead and remain open, at least for the time being, citing the toll that remote learning has taken on students’ mental health and academic success. And the rising number of cases has not yet been followed by a proportionate increase in hospitalizations and deaths, though hospitalizations have increased in recent days — a sign that the omicron variant seems to cause fewer cases of severe illness.

But the highly contagious variant is still racing across the country, and teachers, parents and workplaces are bracing for the impact.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times
Advertising

On busy 1st day, NYC mayor urges resiliency against pandemic

New York City’s new mayor, Eric Adams, pledged Saturday to steer the nation’s largest city out of the pandemic by drawing on the resiliency of its people and promising a government that works better, even if it’s not radically different.

Hours after being sworn into office in Times Square as the city rang in the new year, Adams used his inaugural address to promise more efficiency, invoke New Yorkers’ reputation for toughness, and urge the city’s nearly 9 million residents to make a New Year’s resolution that their lives not be controlled by the pandemic.

“Getting vaccinated is not letting the crisis control you,” Adams said at City Hall. “Enjoying a Broadway show. Sending your kids to school. Going back to the office. These are declarations of confidence that our city is our own.”

Adams, 61, faces the immense challenge of pulling the city out of the pandemic, taking office as the city is grappling with record numbers of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant.

The city has also been facing a rise in violent crime, particularly in shootings and killings, that is part of part of a national trend in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adams, a former New York City police captain, kicked off his first day as mayor by calling 911 to report two men fighting, and later in the day promised to aggressively go after violent crime while holding a news conference about a police officer who was shot and injured hours earlier.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

King County Metro begins restoring service after snow

The snow is retreating in King County — and the buses are coming back.

With clearing roads and milder weather approaching, King County Metro has announced it will deactivate its emergency snow network and begin restoring service starting Sunday.

Over the past several days, maintenance crews had been focused on chaining tires and fetching buses stuck in the snow. Now, Metro says, they are switching gears to repairing buses damaged during the recent winter weather.

Service won’t immediately return to normal. Some routes may be affected by lingering snow and ice, and buses undergoing repairs may diminish the overall size of the fleet. Metro suggests visiting metrowinter.com and clicking on the regional map to find status updates for individual routes.

—Brendan Kiley

UW Medicine postpones non-urgent surgeries in response to COVID spike

Responding to the local spike in COVID-19 cases, UW Medicine has announced it will postpone all non-urgent surgeries until Jan. 14.

In an email to patients, the health care complex explained it would take a series of other steps to maximize hospital resources — including staffing and available beds — amid the current rise in coronavirus infections.

Besides delaying non-urgent surgeries, UW Medicine is also restricting its coronavirus testing to individuals who already show COVID symptoms and limiting hospital visitors to one person for one hour during visiting hours. All visitors must also show proof of full vaccination against coronavirus or proof of a negative COVID test taken within three days of the visit.

UW Medicine is also encouraging patients to consult with their doctors via telehealth — including patients experiencing COVID symptoms.

A spokesperson for UW Medicine said about 65 COVID patients are currently admitted to its four hospitals, which have a bed capacity of over 1,500. At the pandemic’s peak, those four hospitals had admitted around 125 COVID patients.

As of Dec. 29 — the most recently available information from the state Department of Health — COVID patients occupied 15.7% of Washington’s ICU beds.

Read the full story here.

—Brendan Kiley
Advertising

Covax vaccine deliveries surge in final stretch of 2021, with a record 300 million doses sent out in December

The Covax Facility delivered more than 309 million coronavirus vaccine doses in December, marking a dramatic increase in the delivery rate for a global vaccine-sharing initiative that had struggled for much of 2021 amid a lack of supply and logistical problems.

In total, roughly 910 million doses were delivered through the U.N.-backed initiative as of Dec. 30, according to provisional tracking by UNICEF released to The Washington Post on Friday.

The final tally for the year is far short of the 2 billion-plus doses that Covax initially aimed for, and is leagues below even loftier targets that some activists said it should be aiming for. But with roughly a third of doses delivered in the final month of the year, there are cautious hopes that Covax may have sidestepped some of the problems that plagued it in 2020.

“It brings a tear to the eye,” said Olly Cann, director of communications at Gavi, the vaccine alliance, a nonprofit that is one of the three principal backers of the program, along with the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

New year brings more canceled flights for air travelers

For air travelers, the new year picked up where the old one left off – with lots of frustration.

By late morning Saturday on the East Coast, more than 2,400 U.S. flights and nearly 4,200 worldwide had been canceled, according to tracking service FlightAware.

That is the highest single-day toll yet since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staffing shortages on increasing COVID-19 infections among crews. More than 12,000 U.S. flights have been canceled since Dec. 24.

Saturday’s disruptions weren’t just due to the virus, however. Wintry weather made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers, with 800 flights scrubbed at O’Hare Airport and more than 250 at Midway Airport. Forecasts called for nine inches of snow. Denver, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, were hit with at least 100 cancellations each.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Out of a prison, into a pandemic

For 13 years, Richard Gonzalez had nothing but time. Now he cannot find enough.

Until a year ago, he had spent his days mostly reading and thinking — in prison. He was serving a sentence for armed burglary when he was released eight months early — in the middle of a pandemic.

In fall 2020, as the coronavirus spread quickly through prison populations, many states, including New York and New Jersey, released people early in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

New York state has released at least 3,900 people since the beginning of the pandemic. New Jersey released some 5,300 early. Gonzalez was one of them.

The path from an open cell door to home has always had its obstacles. Gonzalez’s sister — who works with the formerly incarcerated — has guided him in ways overworked agencies often cannot.

But for most people, piecing together a patchwork safety net is a daunting task. The recidivism rate in New Jersey is just shy of 30%. In New York, 43% of people released from prison eventually return. In New York City, more than half the people leaving prison are sent into the shelter system.

During a pandemic, the journey to finding places to live, work and study can become a labyrinth, especially for those who have no one waiting on the other side.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times
Advertising

New Year’s Rose Parade proceeds despite COVID-19 surge

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — A year after New Year’s Day passed without a Rose Parade due to the coronavirus pandemic, the floral spectacle celebrating the arrival of 2022 proceeded Saturday despite a new surge of infections due to the omicron variant.

The 133rd edition of the Pasadena, California, tradition featured actor LeVar Burton as grand marshal, 20 marching bands, 18 equestrian units and dozens of floats reflecting the theme of “Dream. Believe. Achieve.”

After days of record-smashing rains, there were sunny skies for the 8 a.m. start of the parade, which has an uncanny history of postcard weather.

LeAnn Rimes kicked off the event with a performance of “Throw My Arms Around the World” followed by a military flyover of a B-2 bomber. Also on the performance list were “American Idol” winner Laine Hardy aboard Louisiana’s “Feed Your Soul” float and country singer-songwriter Jimmie Allen.

The parade and the afternoon Rose Bowl football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Utah Utes remained on track despite an explosion of COVID-19 infections in Los Angeles County, where daily new cases topped 27,000 on Friday.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Taking a step back: US colleges returning to online classes

With COVID-19 cases surging just as students are about to return from winter break, dozens of U.S. colleges are moving classes online again for at least the first week or so of the semester — and some warn it could stretch longer if the wave of infection doesn’t subside soon.

Harvard is moving classes online for the first three weeks of the new year, with a return to campus scheduled for late January, “conditions permitting.” The University of Chicago is delaying the beginning of its new term and holding the first two weeks online. Some others are inviting students back to campus but starting classes online, including Michigan State University.

Many colleges hope that an extra week or two will get them past the peak of the nationwide spike driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. Still, the surge is casting uncertainty over a semester many had hoped would be the closest to normal since the start of the pandemic.

For some students, starting the term remotely is becoming routine — many colleges used the strategy last year amid a wave of cases. But some fear the latest shift could extend well beyond a week or two.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Scientists predict omicron will peak in the U.S. in mid-January but still may overwhelm hospitals

With the news that South Africa has passed the peak of its coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant, scientists are projecting that the United States’ sharp increase in cases will crest as soon as the middle of January.

Over the past month, the omicron variant has spread around the world with astonishing speed, even among people who are vaccinated or who had recovered from previous infections. On Thursday, the United States surpassed 580,000 cases, beating the record set only a day before.

That is believed to be a vast undercount, because of testing shortages, the popularity of at-home tests and reporting delays over the holidays. What’s more, a significant number of people may have asymptomatic infections and never know it.

New estimates from researchers at Columbia University suggest that the United States could peak by Jan. 9 at around 2.5 million cases per week, although that number may go as high as 5.4 million. In New York City, the first U.S. metropolis to see a major surge, the researchers estimated that cases would peak by the first week of the new year.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times