Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, Jan. 2 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

The Puget Sound region, like much of the United States, takes up a new challenge as 2021 begins — to vaccinate the population against coronavirus.

The country marked the New Year holiday by exceeding 20 million COVID-19 cases, which took 347,788 lives, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Many non-lethal cases cause neural or sensory damage.

Washington state is embarking on its vaccination plan, to resume deliveries today after a one-day halt on Jan. 1.

As of Dec. 23, the state Department of Health reports 153,925 doses distributed to 220 sites, and 18,825 doses sent to long-term care facilities and Native American health providers, with another 57,525 doses to arrive this week.

Later in January, Washington state intends to rely on an “honor system” where residents answer an online questionnaire called PhaseFinder, to determine eligibility to receive the vaccines. The state’s goal is to inoculate, not interrogate, people as quickly as possible. You can read a Seattle Times story about the strategy here.

So far, the vaccine is reserved for high-risk medical workers, first responders, and the staff and patients in long-term care facilities. It’s likely the next categories, known as Phase 1b, would include people age 75 and older, and essential workers in food, agriculture, the U.S. Postal Service, manufacturing, and grocery stores.

Throughout Saturday, on this page, we’ll be posting Seattle Times journalists’ updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Friday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

The following graphic includes the most recent numbers published by the Washington State Department of Health, reflecting counts as of Wednesday night, Dec. 30.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Live updates

Romo out of broadcast booth due to COVID-19 protocols

NEW YORK — Tony Romo will not be in the broadcast booth on the final day of the NFL regular season Sunday after being sidelined by “COVID-19 protocols,” the network said.

CBS Sports posted the news with a short tweet on its “CBS Sports PR” Twitter feed on Saturday afternoon. No other information was provided.

The network said that Boomer Esiason, who normally is in CBS’ New York studio for “The NFL Today,” will team with Jim Nantz at SoFi Stadium calling the Cardinal-Rams game.

Romo joins NBC’s Al Michaels as a member of a network’s top announce crew to be sidelined this season due to COVID-19 protocols. Michaels did not do the Dec. 20 Browns-Giants game and missed last week’s Titans-Packers game.

—Associated Press
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State health department not reporting new COVID-19 numbers Saturday, citing technical problems

The state Department of Health did not report new COVID-19 case numbers Saturday, citing data processing challenges.

COVID-19 case numbers are usually updated every day and the number of deaths is updated on weekdays.

The Health Department has reported 246,752 cases and 3,461 deaths as of Dec. 30, 2020. This means that 1.4% of people diagnosed with the virus in Washington have died, according to DOH.

—Paige Cornwell

Some COVID-19 survivors haunted by loss of smell and taste

Until March, when everything started tasting like cardboard, Katherine Hansen had such a keen sense of smell that she could re-create almost any restaurant dish at home without the recipe, just by recalling the scents and flavors.

Then the coronavirus arrived. One of Hansen’s first symptoms was a loss of smell, and then of taste. Hansen still cannot taste food, and says she can’t even tolerate chewing it. Now she lives mostly on soups and shakes.

“I’m like someone who loses their eyesight as an adult,” said Hansen, a real estate agent who lives outside Seattle. “They know what something should look like. I know what it should taste like, but I can’t get there.”

A diminished sense of smell, called anosmia, has emerged as one of the telltale symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. It is the first symptom for some patients, and sometimes the only one. Often accompanied by an inability to taste, anosmia occurs abruptly and dramatically in these patients, almost as if a switch had been flipped.

Most regain their senses of smell and taste after they recover, usually within weeks. But in a minority of patients like Hansen, the loss persists, and doctors cannot say when or if the senses will return.

Read the full story here.

—New York Times

Larry King hospitalized with COVID-19, report says

Talk show host Larry King is reportedly hospitalized with COVID-19 in Los Angeles.

King, 87, is being treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, ABC News reported Saturday.

The Brooklyn born King hosted “Larry King Live” on CNN from 1985 to 2010 and more recently, helmed “Larry King Now” on Ora TV.

King’s health woes have been well documented. He has suffered cardiac problems going back to 1987, had lung cancer in 2017, angioplasty and a stroke in 2019.

—New York Daily News
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A continent where the dead are not counted

A funeral home in Lagos, Nigeria,, last month.  All 54 African countries put together have registered fewer COVID-19 deaths than France. That doesn’t mean people aren’t dying from the virus. (Yagazie Emezi / The New York Times)
A funeral home in Lagos, Nigeria,, last month. All 54 African countries put together have registered fewer COVID-19 deaths than France. That doesn’t mean people aren’t dying from the virus. (Yagazie Emezi / The New York Times)

LAGOS, Nigeria — Christopher Johnson was known for two things. His enthusiastic dancing in the street, which made everyone laugh. And his habit of hurling insults at strangers, which constantly got him into trouble.

So when Johnson died in late September, likely of sepsis after a leg injury according to friends, everyone in Oluti, his lively neighborhood in Nigeria’s biggest city, heard.

Everyone, that is, except the government registrar responsible for recording deaths.

As the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the world in 2020, it has become increasingly evident that in the vast majority of countries on the African continent, most deaths are never formally registered. Reliable data on a country’s deaths and their causes are hard to come by, which means governments can miss emerging health threats — whether Ebola or the coronavirus — and often have to formulate health policy blindly.

COVID-19 is often said to have largely bypassed Africa. Some epidemiologists posit that its youthful population was less at risk, others that prior exposure to other coronaviruses gave some protection. But like other diseases, its true toll here will probably never be known, partly because elevated mortality rates cannot be used as a measure as they are elsewhere.

Read the full story here.

—New York Times

California funeral homes run out of space as COVID-19 rages

As communities across the country feel the pain of a surge in coronavirus cases, funeral homes in the hot spot of Southern California say they must turn away grieving families as they run out of space for the bodies piling up.

The head of the state funeral directors association says mortuaries are being inundated as the United States nears a grim tally of 350,000 COVID-19 deaths. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“I’ve been in the funeral industry for 40 years and never in my life did I think that this could happen, that I’d have to tell a family, ‘No, we can’t take your family member,’” said Magda Maldonado, owner of Continental Funeral Home in Los Angeles.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Illegal French New Year’s Eve party that drew 2,500 ends after 36 hours and a failed attempt to shut it down

An illegal New Year’s Eve party that drew around 2,500 people to a small French village came to an end Saturday morning, more than 24 hours after authorities had to abort an initial attempt to shut the rave down.

“Sound equipment and generators were seized,” France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Saturday morning, adding that the organizers would be “severely punished.”

Around 1,200 penalty notices have been issued, local officials said, with most of them being linked to violations of coronavirus restrictions.

Regional authorities set up a coronavirus testing site near the rave’s location and urged all participants to quarantine for seven days, amid concerns that the event could worsen an anticipated rise in novel coronavirus infections in the coming weeks.

Read the full story here.

—Rick Noack, The Washington Post
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Need for free food in Washington state has doubled, many groups report, as COVID-19 rips away jobs and security

For as long as Manuel Villaseca has lived in the Seattle area, he’s always had work. 

From restaurants to supermarkets, even a teriyaki place, he’s mainly worked in food. 

“Before the pandemic, it was easy,” Villaseca said of finding employment.  

But four months ago, he lost his job at a grocery store after it changed ownership. And on a cold, overcast December afternoon, two days before the new year, he drove 45 minutes from his home in Tukwila to the Ballard Food Bank with his wife and two friends. He had heard that they had a lot of good food to offer.

“This is our first time coming,” he said, from the driver’s seat of his vehicle as he waited in a slow drive-thru pickup line.

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, many organizations that provide free food across Washington have seen demand nearly double. At the beginning of April, cars lined up at one distribution site hours before it opened only to find the entire supply depleted in under an hour.

Read the full story here.

—Anna Patrick

COVID-19 cases driving sky-high demand — and pay packages — for traveling nurses

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Addison Frasch worked as an intensive care nurse in his native Georgia, making about $900 a week.

Now Frasch is a travel nurse on a crisis assignment at a rural hospital near El Centro that is inundated with COVID patients. The 23-year-old is earning $6,200 a week as a float ICU nurse under a statewide contract that he landed through San Diego’s Aya Healthcare.

Frasch knows that he won’t be paid like this forever. His contract is lucrative in part because ICU nurses are in short supply and because the contract allows for him to be relocated to any hospital in California at a moment’s notice.

But it is also a sign of the times.

Read the full story here.

—Mike Freeman, The San Diego Union-Tribune

McConnell, Pelosi homes vandalized after $2,000 relief fails

Vandals lashed out at the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate over the holiday weekend, blighting their homes with graffiti and in one case a pig’s head as Congress failed to approve an increase in the amount of money being sent to individuals to help cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Spray paint on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s door in Kentucky on Saturday read, “WERES MY MONEY.” “MITCH KILLS THE POOR” was scrawled over a window. A profanity directed at the Republican senator was painted under the mailbox.

At House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home in San Francisco, someone spray-painted graffiti and left a pig’s head and fake blood on New Year’s Day, police said. The vandalism was reported around 2 a.m. Friday, a police statement said, and a special investigations unit is trying to determine who did it.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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New Washington state law now caps monthly insulin copay at $100

Many Washington residents with diabetes will have an easier time affording insulin this year, as a law imposes a $100 cap on patient copayments.

The law applies to any health-care plan issued or renewed after Jan. 1 that covers insulin drugs. It includes language to protect people who have “high deductible” insurance from paying more than $100 per 30-day supply.

About 686,000 people in Washington state have diabetes, and 226,300 rely on insulin. In 2017, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the state, according to the state Department of Health.

Diabetes is a potential risk factor for COVID-19 complications.

Read the full story here.

—Mike Lindblom

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Florida became the third state to identify a case of the new variant of the coronavirus. The more transmissible version of the virus, first detected in the United Kingdom, has also been reported in California and Colorado.

Logistical problems are slowing distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. The United States is far behind schedule in its third week, raising fears about how quickly the country will be able to tame the epidemic.

A Washington state distillery that pivoted to making hand sanitizer for health care workers won't face a FDA fine, the Department of Health & Human Services announced Thursday.

Britain has updated its vaccination guidance to allow for a mix-and-match vaccine regimen, confounding experts who say “there are no data on this idea whatsoever.”

—Taylor Blatchford