Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Jan. 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
As people around the world celebrated the start of a new year, some countries and cities canceled or scaled back their festivities, while others without active outbreaks carried on like any other year. In the United States — where the country reported another record high daily COVID-19 death toll Wednesday — the virus also muted many end-of-year celebrations.
In Washington, state officials plan to roll out a online questionnaire in the new year, one that will determine eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations, so those administering vaccines do not have to police who qualifies. Here’s more about how the online tool works.
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.
Sneezed on, cussed at, ignored: Airline workers battle mask resistance with scant government backup
Displays of rule-bucking intransigence are described in more than 150 aviation safety reports filed with the federal government since the start of the pandemic and reviewed by The Washington Post.
The reports provide an unguarded accounting of bad behavior by airline customers, something executives hit by a steep drop in travel and billions in pandemic-related losses are loath to share themselves.
Some reports raise safety concerns beyond the risk of coronavirus infection. A flight attendant reported being so busy seeking mask compliance that the employee couldn’t safely reach a seat in time for landing.
Some passengers are portrayed as oblivious, obstinate, foul-mouthed and, at times, dangerous. One called a flight attendant a “Nazi.” Another “started to rant how the virus is a political hoax and that she doesn’t wear a mask,” a flight attendant reported.
Read more here.
Britain opts for mix-and-match vaccinations, confounding experts
Amid a sputtering vaccine rollout and fears of a new and potentially more transmissible variant of the coronavirus, Britain has quietly updated its vaccination playbook to allow for a mix-and-match vaccine regimen. If a second dose of the vaccine a patient originally received isn’t available, or if the manufacturer of the first shot isn’t known, another vaccine may be substituted, health officials said.
The new guidance contradicts guidelines in the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that the authorized coronavirus vaccines “are not interchangeable,” and that “the safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series have not been evaluated. Both doses of the series should be completed with the same product.”
Some scientists say Britain is gambling with its new guidance. “There are no data on this idea whatsoever,” said John Moore, a vaccine expert at Cornell University. Officials in Britain “seem to have abandoned science completely now and are just trying to guess their way out of a mess.”
Health officials in Britain are caught in a deadly race with the virus, which is surging again, and are struggling to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Hospitals continue to strain under a crush of coronavirus patients, and tens of thousands of new infections are reported each day. Schools in London and other regions hit hard by the virus will remain closed for at least the next two weeks, government officials said Friday.
Read the full story here.
Coughing, sneezing, vomiting: Visibly ill people aren’t being kept off planes
U.S. airlines boast layers of protocols intended to protect passengers from the coronavirus, including increased cleaning of plane cabins and a requirement that passengers wear face coverings except when eating or drinking.
Nearly all of them also require passengers to fill out a health declaration before boarding. But the only repercussion for lying on the declaration or refusing to wear a mask on the plane is getting banned from the airline, if caught.
How often people with COVID-19, the illness causes by the virus, board planes is impossible to know.
Federal regulations require airline pilots to report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) any deaths or illnesses aboard interstate and international flights, and in March, the CDC updated its guidance reminding pilots of that duty. But on Thursday, the CDC told the Los Angeles Times that it does not keep track of the pilots’ reports. The U.S. Transportation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration said they don’t keep track of COVID-19 cases on flights either.
Read more here.
How does the coronavirus make people sick, and what should I do if I’m exposed?
At this time last year, not many people outside of public health and medical circles knew much about or paid much attention to the coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 changed that and has introduced “bending the curve,” “COVID-19” and “social distancing” into the lexicon.
The general population now knows much more about coronaviruses, which can infect birds and mammals, including humans. Two other coronaviruses captured the world’s attention earlier this century when SARS emerged in Asia in 2002 and MERS on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012.
Readers have asked how SARS-CoV-2, the current pandemic coronavirus, works once it is in the body and what they should do if exposed. We answer those questions in this week’s FAQ Friday, and a query about being exposed to the virus at work.
Read the full explainer here.
Amid the gloom of 2020, there was also joy
It has, for much of 2020, not felt OK to feel happy. The pandemic has killed thousands, sickened millions and upended lives. Jobs lost, classes canceled. Parties, weddings, trips, graduations, dinners out, happy hours, play-dates — 2020 defeated them all.
The year also brought police killings caught on camera; sustained protests that roiled American life unlike any in memory; an election viewed as existential; and the deepest recession in decades. The grief, at times, has felt thick enough to touch.
But Washington is a big state and this is a big country. Even in a year when sorrow hung heavy like wildfire smoke, people found joy. They had children and grandchildren and watched them grow. They got married. They adopted dogs. Most of all, people found joy in family, in human connection, even if those connections had to be mediated by distance.
Back in spring, when quarantines and staying home were new, Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs and her husband had to figure out something to do with their son Evan.
Evan was only 4, still a year or two away from when kids typically learn to read and to ride a bike. But, well, desperate times …
Read the full story here.
Turkey finds 15 people carrying new U.K. coronavirus variant
Turkey’s health minister says the country has identified 15 people who carry a highly contagious coronavirus variant that was discovered in the United Kingdom.
In a statement Friday, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the strain was found in travelers arriving from the U.K. He said they were in quarantine, along with people they had been in contact with. He said the strain was not identified in passengers from elsewhere.
Turkey has among the worst infection rates in the world but official statistics show the seven-day average of daily infections has dropped to around 15,000 from above 30,000 since evening curfews and weekend lockdowns were instituted in early December.
Vancouver distillers that made hand sanitizer won’t face federal fine
Vancouver, Washington’s Quartz Mountain Distillers was surprised Wednesday to receive a $14,060 fine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for producing hand sanitizer in an effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. But one day later, the company found out that the fee will not be enforced.
Owner Randy Kyle said the distillery began making hand sanitizer in April. The family owners gave almost all of it away to help local health care workers remain safe, the Columbian reported.
All distillers that made hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic were facing that fine.
After the FDA received heavy backlash for the fine on social media, the Department of Health & Human Services announced Thursday that it was directing the FDA not to enforce it.
Here’s why the nation’s distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is taking longer than expected
In Florida, less than one-quarter of delivered coronavirus vaccines have been used, even as older people sat in lawn chairs all night waiting for their shots. In Puerto Rico, last week’s vaccine shipments did not arrive until the workers who would have administered them had left for the Christmas holiday. In California, doctors are worried about whether there will be enough hospital staff members to both administer vaccines and tend to the swelling number of COVID-19 patients.
These sorts of logistical problems in clinics across the country have put the campaign to vaccinate the United States against COVID-19 far behind schedule in its third week, raising fears about how quickly the country will be able to tame the epidemic.
Federal officials said as recently as earlier in December that their goal was to have 20 million people get their first shot by the end of 2020. More than 14 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been sent out across the United States, federal officials said Wednesday. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 2.8 million people have received their first dose, although that number may be somewhat low because of lags in reporting.
Once a model, California now struggles to tame COVID-19
For months, California did many of the right things to avoid a catastrophic surge from the pandemic. But by the time Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Dec. 15 that 5,000 body bags were being distributed, it was clear that the nation’s most populous state had entered a new phase of the COVID-19 crisis.
Now infections have been racing out of control for weeks, and California has routinely set new records for infections and deaths. It remains at or near the top of the list of states with the most new cases per capita.
Experts say a variety of factors combined to wipe out the past efforts, which for much of the year held the virus to manageable levels. Cramped housing, travel and Thanksgiving gatherings contributed to the spread, along with the public’s fatigue amid regulations that closed many schools and businesses and encouraged — or required — an isolated lifestyle.
California’s woes have helped fuel the year-end U.S. infection spike and added urgency to the attempts to beat back the scourge that has killed more than 340,000 Americans. Even with vaccines becoming available, cases are almost certain to continue growing, and yet another surge is expected in the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Who can get a COVID-19 vaccine? Washington state is launching an online questionnaire and will rely on the honor system to determine who's eligible.
Positive test rates in King County soared last month, and hospitalizations and deaths surged. See what happened in your area.
The smartphone app that tells you if you've been exposed has been activated or downloaded by more than one-quarter of Washington's adults, the state says. Here's how WA Notify is working and where to find it.
Nearly 150 employees at a Costco tested positive, but the Yakima-area store is still open.
Does your employer have to tell you if COVID-19 sickens a co-worker? Our FAQ tackles this and other questions about the virus.
Coughing, sneezing, vomiting people aren’t being kept off planes.
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