Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, January 17, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

With soaring demand for COVID-19 tests fueling long waits and desperate searches, authorities in several states are warning consumers about pop-up sites with tests of questionable quality. The Center for Covid Control, a company that operates more than 300 such sites nationally, is being investigated by state officials in Illinois and is also the subject of complaints to Washington State’s Attorney General’s Office.

Nursing homes, the first deadly epicenter of the virus in the U.S., are again experiencing a surge in infections and deaths amid the highly contagious omicron variant. That is prompting some facilities to restrict family visits as they had before vaccines became available.

The pandemic has had a disproportionately harsh effect on transgender people in the Seattle area. A lack of data on the LGBTQ+ community has complicated the efforts of public-health officials to prioritize resources for COVID-19.

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.

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Anchorage restaurants, already beleaguered, making drastic changes to deal with omicron

For nearly two years, Anchorage’s restaurants, breweries and bars have weathered surge after surge of COVID-19. Now, as the more contagious omicron variant shatters the state’s previous virus case count records, the industry is once again facing a wave of impacts.

One of the biggest challenges is staying staffed during a continuing worker shortage as workers get sick with the virus. To mitigate that issue, some Anchorage restaurants and bars are taking steps like cutting hours or operating fewer days of the week. Others have been forced to temporarily close after workers become ill.

Restaurateur Jack Lewis co-owns and runs multiple local restaurants, including FireTap Alehouse in South Anchorage, Peanut Farm near the Old Seward Highway, Krispy Kreme in Northeast Anchorage, Burger-Fi in Midtown and McGinley’s Pub downtown, which has remained closed since early in the pandemic.

Lewis temporarily closed FireTap for two days last week after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, long enough for the rest of the staff to get negative test results, he said.

“I wake up in the morning with a cold chill. And it’s not because my house is not heated,” Lewis said. “I’m afraid to look at my phone to see, jeepers creepers, do I have a text about, ‘Jack, we got a problem with a manager or co-worker.’ And that’s usually the first decision that I make for the day. Is everybody healthy? Can we open up all operations? I’m still starting the day like that.”

“Two years — it has become a way of life for me,” he said.

Read the full story here.

—Emily Goodykoontz, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska
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Canada approves Pfizer COVID drug

Canada’s health regulator has approved a pill by Pfizer that treats the effects of COVID-19.

Health Canada authorized Paxlovid for adult patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are also at high risk of becoming more seriously ill. Health Canada did not authorize it for use on teenagers or on patients who are already hospitalized because of COVID-19.

The agency’s announcement Monday comes amid soaring numbers of infections because of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Omicron slamming South American hospitals as workers fall ill

The coronavirus’ omicron variant starting to barrel across South America is pressuring hospitals whose employees are taking sick leave, leaving facilities understaffed to cope with COVID-19′s third wave.

A major hospital in Bolivia’s largest city stopped admitting new patients due to lack of personnel, and one of Brazil’s most populous states canceled scheduled surgeries for a month. Argentina’s federation of private healthcare providers told the AP it estimates about 15% of its health workers currently have the virus.

The third wave “is affecting the health team a lot, from the cleaning staff to the technicians, with a high percentage of sick people, despite having a complete vaccination schedule,” said Jorge Coronel, president of Argentina’s medical confederation. “While symptoms are mostly mild to moderate, that group needs to be isolated.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way: South America’s vaccine uptake was eager once shots were available. About two-thirds of its roughly 435 million residents are fully immunized, the highest percentage for any global region, according to Our World in Data. And health workers in Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina have already been receiving booster shots.

Read the full story here.

—ALMUDENA CALATRAVA and DÉBORA ALVARES, The Associated Press

Cruise ships’ COVID safety rules become voluntary as omicron spikes

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has held the cruise industry to special sailing orders to battle COVID-19 since March 2020. First it was a no-sail order, which then shifted to a conditional sail order with a long list of safety precautions.

That order expired Saturday (Jan. 15), shifting to a voluntary practice, despite a surge in omicron variant cases that have all 92 ships sailing with passengers from the U.S. under CDC investigations because of COVID-19 cases.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in Senate hearing earlier this month indicated the CDC would not extend the order, saying “the industry has stepped up and is now interested in exceeding the compliance with the sail order.”

The CDC confirmed details of the voluntary program would be posted to its website when the conditional order expires, and the cruise lines that opt in must agree to adhere to its recommendations and guidance, with the CDC continuing to monitor onboard cases.

Read the full story here.

—Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
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As students rally for stronger school health and safety protocols, ‘let the youth speak their truth and let them be heard’

It’s fitting that during the time of year we celebrate one of our country’s most heralded civil rights icons, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., students across the country are standing up as well — for their right to a safe education.

In walkouts nationwide on Friday, students advocated for safety in schools, as the omicron surge brought coronavirus cases to by far their highest point ever, even as school continues for most in person.

In Seattle on Friday, over 100 students protested outside the Seattle Public Schools headquarters in Sodo, chanting in call and response: “When our safety is under attack, what do we do? Fight back!” 

Signs at the rally spoke to the frustration many students expressed about what they felt was the lack of safety in school, with signs reading, “Thousands of cases districtwide. No remote classes. VALUE OUR LIVES,” “Is your $$$ worth our safety?” and “How are we supposed to learn if we’re sick?”

Read the full column here.

—Naomi Ishisaka, Seattle Times columnist

In Greece, unvaccinated people 60 and up face monthly fines

Greece imposed a vaccination mandate Monday for people 60 and older, as the country’s vaccination rate remains below the European Union average and a spike in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals.

Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro ($57) fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) after that.

About two-thirds of Greece’s 10.7 million people are fully vaccinated, while the EU average is just over 70%. But COVID-19 deaths and daily hospitalizations have increased following the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant, though pressure on ICU capacity has eased slightly.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be collected through the tax office with the money going to help fund state hospitals.

Read the full story here.

—Derek Gatopoulos, The Associated Press

Daily virus cases in Russia double as omicron spreads

Russian authorities on Monday reported a sharp spike in new coronavirus cases, apparently driven by the rapid spread of the omicron variant health officials warned about last week.

The country’s state coronavirus task force registered 30,726 new infections over the last 24 hours, which is twice as many as 15,830 just a week ago and the highest daily tally since early December. The task force has also reported 670 deaths.

The omicron variant spreads much more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant.

Infections in Russia steadily climbed all of last week, and officials sounded the alarm about a looming surge of cases driven by omicron’s rapid spread.

Read the full story here.

—Dasha Litvinova, The Associated Press
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Popular TV anchor catches COVID for a second time: ‘This virus is scary’

Morning anchor Caroline Collins of Fresno’s KSEE24 revealed on social media that she hasn’t been on television the past few days because she is ill with COVID-19.

It’s the second time the TV anchor has caught the coronavirus, Collins says.

“I’ve been off all week with COVID,” Collins wrote. “I’m so blessed to be feeling OK! I know this isn’t the case for so many. The last round of COVID I had a year and a half ago put me in the hospital with a heart issue called ‘pericarditis.’

Collins, who could not be reached for comment, says in her social media post that she expects to return on air this week.

Read the full story here.

—Bryant-Jon Anteola, The Fresno Bee

COVID program delivers 1 billion doses to poorer countries

The World Health Organization said Sunday that a U.N.-backed program shipping coronavirus vaccines to many poor countries has now delivered 1 billion doses, but that milestone “is only a reminder of the work that remains” after hoarding and stockpiling in rich countries.

A shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Rwanda on Saturday included the billionth dose supplied via the COVAX program, the U.N. health agency said.

WHO has long criticized unequal distribution of vaccines and called for manufacturers and other countries to prioritize COVAX. It said that, as of Thursday, 36 of its 194 member countries had vaccinated less than 10% of their population and 88 had vaccinated less than 40%.

The program has made deliveries to 144 countries so far, “but the work that has gone into this milestone is only a reminder of the work that remains,” WHO said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID deaths and cases are rising again at US nursing homes

COVID-19 infections are soaring again at U.S. nursing homes because of the omicron wave, and deaths are climbing too, leading to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted.

Nursing homes were the lethal epicenter of the pandemic early on, before the vaccine allowed many of them to reopen to visitors last year. But the wildly contagious variant has dealt them a setback.

Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending Jan. 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of 645 COVID-19-related deaths among residents were recorded during the same week, a 47% increase from the earlier period. And there are fears that deaths could go much higher before omicron is through.

Read the full story here.

—Meg Kinnard and Bryan Gallion, The Associated Press
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Your COVID home test is covered now, but insurers aren’t ready. Here’s what to do

Starting Saturday, new federal rules require private insurers to cover the at-home coronavirus tests that Americans buy in pharmacies and other stores. The new system could, in theory, allow millions of consumers to pick up tests at thousands of locations without spending any money.

The reality, at least in the short term, is likely to be messier: Some insurers say it will probably take weeks to fully set up the system the White House envisions.

The new process will be hard, the insurers say, because over-the-counter coronavirus tests are different from the doctor’s visits and hospital stays they typically cover.

The tests do not currently have the type of billing codes that insurers use to process claims. Health plans rarely process retail receipts; instead they’ve built systems for digital claims with preset formats and long-established billing codes.

Read the full story here.

—Sarah Kliff, The New York Times

Most of Seattle area’s 200,000 unvaccinated adults say they will ‘definitely not’ get COVID shots

Seattle is one of the most vaccinated major metro areas in the nation. More than 90% of the 18-and-older population in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Even so, that leaves a fairly large number of people in the three counties who are unvaccinated.

According to new survey data, that number stood at around 216,000 in early December — and that number’s probably not coming down more much at this point. Most of the unvaccinated plan to stay that way, according to the survey.

The data comes for the latest release of the U.S. Census Bureau’s ongoing Household Pulse Survey, conducted from Dec. 1 to 13. There were about 61,000 respondents to the survey, which includes the nation’s 15 largest metro areas — Seattle just makes the cut at No. 15.

Read the story here.

—Gene Balk / FYI Guy

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Your rapid at-home test is covered by insurance now — but insurers aren't ready. Here's what to do while they catch up with the new rules. Beware of putting too much stock in negative test results, though. In the omicron era, timing the tests right and understanding their weaknesses is crucial.

Seattle is one of the most vaccinated big cities in the nation, but most of the 200,000 unvaccinated adults in this area say they will "definitely not" get COVID-19 shots. FYI Guy looks at who's most likely to be unvaccinated and why.

Picking a good mask in a sea of fakes isn't easy, but it's important: Many counterfeits don’t even offer as much protection as a cloth mask. The New York Times interviewed mask makers, public health officials and researchers for this detailed guide to finding quality masks and avoiding counterfeits.

A big change on cruise ships: COVID-19 safety measures are now voluntary for cruise lines after a U.S. order expired over the weekend. Here's what the companies are doing so far.

—Kris Higginson