Coronavirus infections across the globe rose by about 55% last week from the previous week’s tally, as officials reported 15 million new cases. But the rate of deaths related to the virus remained stable, according to the World Health Organization’s weekly pandemic report.

Every region in the world reported an increase in COVID-19 cases except for Africa, where officials reported an 11% drop in reported cases.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials in several states are debating how and whether to impose mask mandates as COVID-19 cases soar and residents grow weary of pandemic restrictions. At the same time, White House officials are “strongly considering options” to make high-quality masks, such as N95 or KN95 masks, more available.

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.

Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch here:

Inslee calls out National Guard to help at overtaxed hospitals, testing sites

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced that members of the Washington National Guard will help staff hospitals and testing sites across the state, as the health care system struggles with surging COVID-19 caseloads.

Guard members will be sent to hospitals in Everett, Spokane, Wenatchee and Yakima to take over nonmedical tasks to help relieve crowded emergency rooms.

Others will be sent to hospitals in Olympia, Richland, Tacoma and Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center to set up testing locations outside the facilities. Federal testing sites are also being set up in King and Snohomish counties.

And, in an echo of the early months of the pandemic, Inslee ordered a four-week pause on nonemergency procedures at hospitals and encouraged retired health care workers to consider helping out.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

CDC will let cruise rules expire as omicron surges on ships

Cruise lines that sail in the United States will soon be allowed to decide if they want to follow pandemic-era guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The “conditional sailing order,” a mandatory set of rules that cruise companies have had to follow since 2020, expires on Saturday. After that, the agency will transition to a “voluntary COVID-19 risk mitigation program” for ships that are registered in foreign countries and operate in U.S. waters.

These rules have included requiring vaccination for a certain percentage of passengers and crew; tests before boarding for passengers and regular testing for crew; and mask-wearing indoors unless eating or drinking.

The shift to a voluntary program comes after the CDC raised its health notice level for cruise ships, warning all travelers to avoid cruising as the omicron variant sent case numbers skyrocketing. According to the agency, cruise ships reported 14,803 coronavirus cases between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12. That’s 95 times the number of cases reported — 155 — between Dec. 1 and 14.

Read the full story here.

—Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post

Russia sees sharp rise in virus cases amid new surge fears

Russia on Thursday recorded a sharp increase in coronavirus cases amid warnings by government officials that another surge in infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant could be on its way.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 21,155 new contagions on Thursday, 18% more than the previous day and 33% more than on Monday. The task force also recorded 740 new deaths.

The new spike in infections comes after a steady decline of new cases over several weeks following an earlier record-setting surge.

Read the story here.

—Dasha Litvinova, The Associated Press

State health officials confirm 16,659 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 16,659 new coronavirus cases and 40 new deaths on Thursday.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,025,322 cases and 10,143 deaths, meaning that 1.0% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

The new cases may include up to 800 duplicates, according to DOH.

In addition, 48,603 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 519 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 262,287 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,177 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 12,238,480 doses and 63% 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 20,600 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.

—Amanda Zhou

French teachers go on strike over handling of pandemic

French teachers have walked out in a nationwide strike Thursday to express anger at the way the government is handling the virus situation in schools, denouncing confusing rules and calling for more protection.

Exhausted by the pressures of surging COVID-19 cases, a large majority of teachers were expected to support the call by 11 unions to protest virus-linked class disruptions and ever-changing isolation rules.

Unions have staged a street protest in Paris city center on Thursday afternoon.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Majority of COVID patients in German ICUs not vaccinated

Most COVID-19 patients in intensive care in German hospitals aren’t vaccinated, data published on Thursday indicates.

The data from Germany’s intensive care association DIVI showed that 62% of ICU patients whose vaccine status was known had received no protective shots against the coronavirus. Unvaccinated people make up about a quarter of the German population.

Almost 10% were only partially vaccinated while 28% of ICU patients were fully inoculated, it said.

About 72.3 % of the German population has received at least two jabs, while 45.1% have also had a booster shot.

Germany’s independent vaccine advisory panel on Thursday endorsed booster shots for children and adolescents aged 12 to 17.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Biden to double free COVID tests, add N95s, to fight omicron

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the government will double to 1 billion the rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to be distributed free to Americans, along with the most protective N95 masks, as he highlighted his efforts to “surge” resources to help the country weather the spike in coronavirus cases.

Biden also announced that starting next week 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Speaking at the White House Thursday, Biden acknowledged that, “I know we’re all frustrated as we enter this new year” as virus cases reach new heights. But, he insisted, it remains “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Read the story here.

—Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Omicron waves appear to slow in New York City, other major metropolitan areas

The explosion of omicron cases along the I-95 corridor from the Mid-Atlantic to New England is showing signs of slowing down, according to health officials and epidemiologists, offering reason for cautious optimism that the turning point could be near and that the variant’s U.S. trajectory is similar to that of other countries.

Coronavirus levels in Boston-area wastewater are falling, a promising sign because alarmingly high levels spotted earlier presaged record infections. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has seen the rate of teachers testing positive during asymptomatic weekly screening plunge from 25% in the week between Christmas and New Year’s to 2% in recent days.

“Omicron is more like a flash flood than a wave. It goes to enormously high levels very quickly and then, based on other parts of the world, may come down very quickly,” said Tom Frieden, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director and New York City health commissioner. “We know that the more people who are up to date with their vaccines, the fewer deaths there will be, the fewer hospitalizations there will be and the less economic disruption there will be.”

Read the story here.

—Fenit Nirappil and Hannah Knowles, The Washington Post

Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for U.S. businesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

4 Arkansas inmates sue jail, doctor for receiving ivermectin

Four inmates at a northwest Arkansas jail sued the facility and its doctor Thursday after they said were unknowingly prescribed ivermectin to treat COVID-19 despite health officials’ warnings that the anti-parasitic drug shouldn’t be used for that purpose.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the detainees against the Washington County jail, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder and Dr. Robert Karas. Helder in August revealed that ivermectin had been prescribed to inmates to treat their COVID-19.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved ivermectin for use by people and animals for some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions. The FDA has not approved its use in treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans. According to the FDA, side effects for the drug include skin rash, nausea and vomiting.

The inmates said they were never told ivermectin was among the medications they had been given to treat their COVID-19, and instead were told they were being given vitamins, antibiotics or steroids.

“The truth, however, was that without knowing and voluntary consent, plaintiffs ingested incredibly high doses of a drug that credible medical professionals, the FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all agree is not an effective treatment against COVID-19, and that if given in large doses is dangerous for humans,” the lawsuit said.

Karas and the sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit. Karas has previously said no inmates were forced to take the drug.

Read the story here.

—Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press

Trump slams politicians who won’t say they got booster shots

Former President Donald Trump is slamming politicians who refuse to say whether they have received COVID-19 booster shots as “gutless.”

“You gotta say it. Whether you had it or not, say it,” Trump said in an interview that aired Tuesday night on the conservative One America News Network.

Trump, who was booed last month by supporters after revealing he had gotten a booster shot, has become increasingly vocal in calling out those who have questioned the vaccines’ efficacy and safety. It’s a change in posture for Trump as he eyes another run for the White House and faces potential competition from a long list of possible Republican challengers.

Even though the vaccines were developed during the Trump administration, they remain deeply unpopular with large segments of the Republican base, fueled in part by rampant disinformation. Trump, while in office, consistently downplayed the risk posed by COVID-19 and he received his vaccine privately, even as other members of his administration were inoculated in public to help boost confidence in the shots.

“Well, I’ve taken it. I’ve had the booster,” Trump said in the interview. “I watched a couple of politicians be interviewed and one of the questions was, ‘Did you get the booster?’ …. And they, ‘Oh, oh,’ they’re answering it — like in other words, the answer is ‘Yes,’ but they don’t want to say it. Because they’re gutless.”

Read the story here.

—Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

For retail workers, omicron disruptions aren’t just about health

Long checkout lines. Closed fitting rooms. Empty shelves. Shortened store hours.

Plus the dread of contracting the coronavirus and yet another season of skirmishes with customers who refuse to wear masks.

A weary retail workforce is experiencing the fallout from the latest wave of the pandemic, with a rapidly spreading variant cutting into staffing.

While data shows that people infected with the omicron variant are far less likely to be hospitalized than those with the delta variant, especially if they are vaccinated, many store workers are dealing with a new jump in illness and exposures, grappling with shifting guidelines around isolation and juggling child care. At the same time, retailers are generally not extending hazard pay as they did earlier in the pandemic and have been loath to adopt vaccine or testing mandates.

Read the story here.

—Sapna Maheshwari and Michael Corkery, The New York Times

China faces omicron test weeks ahead of Beijing Olympics

Most access to a major city adjacent to Beijing was suspended Thursday as China tried to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious omicron variant, which poses a test to its “zero-tolerance” COVID-19 policy and its ability to successfully host the Winter Olympics.

Tianjin, a port and manufacturing center with 14 million people, is one of a half-dozen cities where the government is imposing lockdowns and other restrictions as part of a policy that aims to track down every virus case. But the outbreak in a city so close to the Olympic host is particularly worrying.

Throughout the pandemic, authorities have been especially protective of Beijing since it is the seat of government and home to senior politicians. With the Games opening there in just over three weeks and China’s national pride on the line, the stakes are even higher now.

Read the story here.

—Huizhong Wu, The Associated Press

Seattle students demand masks and COVID tests, plan sickout as school closures climb

Last-minute closures in Seattle Public Schools this week have prompted students to organize a sickout, threaten a strike, demand improved safety protocols and call for more transparency from the state’s largest school district.

They’re not alone. Parents and teachers alike say the district failed to anticipate the need to shift to remote learning as a predictable wave of coronavirus cases caused school cancellations around the region. 

During this second week back from winter break, classes were canceled because of coronavirus-related staffing shortages and because there weren’t enough substitutes to meet the demand, a trend that has plagued school districts across the country.

Seattle students say they’ve decided to join a national, student-led movement calling for remote learning and stronger school safety standards as COVID-19 cases are spiking.

Read the story here.

—Monica Velez

Army ups bonuses for recruits to $50K, as COVID takes toll

The U.S. Army, for the first time ever, is offering a maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 to skilled recruits who join for six years,The Associated Press has learned, as the service struggles to lure soldiers into certain critical jobs during the continuing pandemic.

Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, head of Army Recruiting Command, told AP that shuttered schools and the competitive job market over the past year have posed significant challenges for recruiters. So heading into the most difficult months of the year for recruiting, the Army is hoping that some extra cash and a few other changes will entice qualified young people to sign up.

“We are still living the implications of 2020 and the onset of COVID, when the school systems basically shut down,” said Vereen. “We lost a full class of young men and women that we didn’t have contact with, face-to-face.”

Two years of the pandemic has made it more difficult to recruit in schools and at public events, and the competition for quality workers has intensified as young people weigh their options.

Read the story here

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

Oregon governor deploys National Guard to hospitals amid COVID surge

Gov. Kate Brown is deploying Oregon National Guard members to help at hospitals that she says are under extreme pressure due to a COVID-19 omicron-fueled surge in hospitalizations.

A total of 1,200 Guard members will be deployed to more than 50 hospitals across the state, KATU-TV reported.

“Fueled by the Omicron variant, current hospitalizations are over 700 and daily COVID-19 case counts are alarmingly high,” she said on Twitter, thanking Guard members, their families and their employers for this sacrifice and support.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker promoted a ‘mist’ that he claimed would ‘kill any COVID on your body’

As the coronavirus was sweeping across the United States last summer and the country was still without a vaccine, Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker promoted a “mist” that he claimed would “kill any COVID on your body.”

Walker, who is vying to unseat freshman Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump, did not name the supposed product, which he claimed was “EPA-, FDA-approved.”

The newly-unearthed comments bring renewed scrutiny to Walker, who is already facing criticism over allegations that he threatened the lives of two women, including his ex-wife, and embellished his business record.

There is no known mist or spray that can prevent COVID-19.

Read the story here.

—Felicia Sonmez, The Washington Post

Rapid coronavirus tests are hard to find — unless you work for Google or play in the NBA

While many Americans scramble to track down increasingly scarce rapid at-home coronavirus tests, they are abundant for white-collar employees of some of the country’s biggest companies.

Workers at corporate giants such as Google and JPMorgan Chase can request tests be sent to them free. At Google, employees can receive as many as 20 tests per month, even if they’re not going into the office. Delta Air Lines allows its flight staff and corporate employees to order sets of six antigen tests every three weeks.

Sports leagues like the National Basketball Association and the National Football League provide frequent testing to players to ensure they can travel and play for their teams. Other companies such as Microsoft and Mastercard offer a combination of at-home and in-person testing.

Many companies, including Wells Fargo and American Airlines, also offer on-site testing for employees who must interact with customers in person, helping workers and the public stay safe while increasing demand for tests.

The situation is the latest manifestation of the United States’ uneven response to the pandemic. Many Americans, including people who need rapid testing to attend work or school in person, are facing empty pharmacy shelves and “no inventory” banners on e-commerce sites. But hundreds of thousands of accurate at-home testing solutions are held by wealthy companies with the money and motivation to provide them to their workforces — whether employees work in the office or not. 

Read the story here.

—Gerrit De Vynck and Jacob Bogage, The Washington Post

After wave of cancellations, Delta sees recovery in 2022

Delta Air Lines lost $408 million in the final quarter of 2021, dragged down by a COVID-19 surge that rocked the airline in December, and the carrier predicted Thursday that it will suffer one more quarterly loss before travel perks up in spring and summer.

CEO Ed Bastian said 8,000 employees have contracted COVID-19 over the last four weeks. Sick workers and winter storms have led to more than 2,200 cancelled flights since Dec. 24.

Cancellations have dropped sharply in the past few days, but the spate of spiked flights cost the airline $75 million and the latest outbreak, caused by the omicron variant of the virus, is expected to push the industry’s recovery back by two months.

Delta expects omicron infections to peak over the next few days and then decline rapidly as it has in South Africa and — more slowly — in the United Kingdom.

Read the story here.

—David Koenig, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

The false rumor spread with omicron-like rapidity: Washington state's Board of Health was about to authorize local health officials and police to round up people for refusing to get coronavirus vaccines and lock them up in quarantine. After radio hosts and congressional candidates threw tinder on the fire, protesters showed up yesterday to rage against the nonexistent plot and a real — but very early stage — study on whether to mandate the vaccines for schoolchildren. Let's sort fact from fiction and look at how things got this wild.

Frustrated Seattle students are planning a sickout and demanding masks and COVID-19 tests as school closures climb across the Puget Sound area.

Are you using the best mask against omicron, and are you wearing it correctly? Our new visual guide shows the CDC’s recommendations for different mask types and how to maximize protection with each. And you can reuse KN95 or N95 masks — here's how to safely do it. Plus, know the difference between those masks and how to spot a fake.

Washington state has surpassed a million coronavirus cases, with the whopping omicron surge sending chart lines nearly vertical as the state also marked a grim milestone on deaths. But a glimmer of hope is emerging in case rates along the East Coast. You can see the risk anywhere in the country in real time, and track the virus' spread in Washington state on these maps.

Because omicron is so contagious, should you just catch it and get it out of the way? Epidemiologists are explaining why trying to get infected is a terrible idea.

An interview with CDC chief Rochelle Walensky sparked outrage — but it turns out that ABC’s editing distorted what Walensky really said, leaving out context that she considered crucial. The network has taken down the misleading clips.

The U.S. military is heading into overwhelmed hospitals to help handle the omicron spike that's sent many health workers into quarantine. We'll learn about other pieces of the federal "surge response" at 7:30 a.m., when President Joe Biden speaks. Watch it live or catch up later.

—Kris Higginson