Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Jan. 14, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

In the week before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, he’s continuing to unveil his coronavirus action plan, which centers on a mass-vaccination campaign and closer coordination among all levels of government. He’s expected to release more details in a Thursday evening speech.

In Washington, state officials will move into the next vaccination phase sooner than expected, moving up the timeline to begin inoculating people 70 years and older, among others, in “the next coming days,” the state’s health secretary said Wednesday.

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.

In coronavirus vaccine drive, Deep South falls behind

ATLANTA — The coronavirus vaccines have been rolled out unevenly across the U.S., but four states in the Deep South have had particularly dismal inoculation rates that have alarmed health experts and frustrated residents.

In Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina, less than 2% of the population had received its first dose of a vaccine at the start of the week, according to data from the states and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As in other parts of the country, states in the South face a number of challenges: limited vaccine supplies, health care workers who refuse to get inoculated and bureaucratic systems that are not equipped to schedule the huge number of appointments being sought.

But other states have still managed — at their best — to get the vaccines into the arms of more than 5% of their populations.

Though it’s not clear why the Deep South is falling behind, public health researchers note that it has typically lagged in funding public health and addressing disparities in care for its big rural population.

—Associated Press

Study: minorities should be designated vulnerable to COVID

LONDON — Researchers writing in a British medical journal are recommending that ethnic minorities should be considered “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19, a distinction that could give groups hard-hit by the pandemic earlier access to potentially life-saving vaccines.

This suggestion is one of six made by the authors of an analysis published Friday in The BMJ. They say “systemic racism” is the fundamental cause of higher coronavirus mortality among ethnic minority communities.

People from these communities were twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than the U.K.’s white majority population during the first wave of the pandemic, according to researchers from St. George’s, University of London, Harvard University, the University of Manchester and Imperial College London.

“Based on these things, I think it is absolutely clinically, and from a public health point of view, justified to prioritize people to mitigate their risk of mortality from COVID,” Dr. Mohammad Razai, one of the report’s authors, told The Associated Press. “When you place them in the extremely vulnerable category everything else will follow from that … including vaccination.”

—Associated Press

Huge response to a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in Sequim is likely preview of what’s to come

Randall Thomas got up at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday to head to the COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Sequim, thinking he’d be one of the first in line. It turned out that about 2,000 people had the same idea.

News had spread that the drive-through clinic, run by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, was offering vaccines to Sequim residents over 70 and their spouses. Thomas, 71, found himself in a line of cars more than a mile and a half long. Officials started turning drivers away soon after, before the clinic even opened.

Thomas came up 10 cars short of making the cutoff. He, and some of the hundreds of others who were turned away, are considering getting in line the night before Saturday’s clinic. They’re willing to camp out overnight for the promise of seeing loved ones again and of no longer having to live in fear.

The high demand and confusion in Sequim may be a preview of what’s to come for other Washington residents. By starting to vaccinate their large older adult populations, Clallam and Jefferson counties have moved into the next phase of vaccination, ahead of the state. The state Department of Health (DOH) plans to move into the next phase in the “coming days.”

State public health officials have been concerned about moving into new phases too quickly, before the supply can match the demand, which could lead to long lines and many people being turned away.

Read the full story here.

—Asia Fields

Oregon reaches daily coronavirus vaccine goal

PORTLAND, Ore. — Officials from the Oregon Health Authority announced Thursday that vaccination sites have met the goal of administering a total of 12,000 coronavirus vaccine doses a day.

But authorities say they must continue to “sustain and expand” their daily totals as the COVID-19 case count continue to rise.

“The state can’t achieve our goal to deliver vaccinations quickly, efficiently and equitably, all on our own,” said Patrick Allen, the director of the health authority. “I’m grateful for the hard work that staff in hospitals, local health clinics and other sites have put into ramping up vaccinations for Oregonians.”

In an effort to reach the goal, which was set 10 days prior by Gov. Kate Brown, additional vaccination sites were added, people currently eligible for the vaccine were expanded and the National Guard was activated to help at a mass vaccination site in Salem.

—Associated Press

Struggling during the pandemic, Walgreens enters the credit card business

Walgreens wants to be in your wallet.

The Deerfield-based drugstore chain announced Wednesday it is launching its own Walgreens-branded credit cards later this year, expanding into financial services as its core business struggles during the pandemic.

The Walgreens cards, which will be issued by Synchrony on the Mastercard network, will include a branded credit card offering cash rewards tied to the new myWalgreens customer loyalty program.

The cards will also offer benefits at other retailers and service providers, including accelerated rewards when shopping in the health and wellness category, the company said.

Walgreens also plans to roll out a pre-paid debit card.

Walgreens president John Standley said in a news release the company plans to introduce more payment initiatives “in the near future” as it looks to create new revenue streams.

—Chicago Tribune

Clinics, pop-ups and churches: How Washington might double or triple COVID-19 vaccination rates

State health officials said they will need to double, if not triple, the pace of immunizations to vaccinate and protect about 70% of Washington’s adult population from the novel coronavirus.

Immunology experts use 70% as a rough target for herd immunity, the point at which enough of society is immune that the virus cannot readily spread between people. The state aims to reach its goal, among people 16 and older, in about seven months, said SheAnne Allen, the state’s COVID-19 vaccine director, during a meeting of the state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee.

Currently, the state is using about 15,000-20,000 doses of vaccine each day.

“We need about 45,000 doses in arms a day,” Allen said. “It’s a big goal.”

The goal illustrates the importance of picking up the pace of vaccination in Washington, and gives a rough approximation of when Washington residents’ lives might feel closer to normal.

Read the full story here.

—Evan Bush

Vaccines to stimulus checks: Here’s what’s in Biden plan

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden is proposing a $1.9 trillion plan to expand coronavirus vaccinations, help individuals and jump-start the economy. The plan, which would require congressional approval, is packed with proposals on health care, education, labor and cybersecurity. Here’s a look at what’s in it:


— A $20 billion national program would establish community vaccination centers across the U.S. and send mobile units to remote communities. Medicaid patients would have their costs covered by the federal government, and the administration says it will take steps to ensure all people in the U.S. can receive the vaccine for free, regardless of their immigration status.

— An additional $50 billion would expand testing efforts and help schools and governments implement routine testing. Other efforts would focus on developing better treatments for COVID-19 and improving efforts to identify and track new strains of the virus.


— Stimulus checks of $1,400 per person in addition to the $600 checks Congress approved in December. By bringing payments to $2,000 — an amount Democrats previously called for — the administration says it will help families meet basic needs and support local businesses.

— A temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures would be extended through September.

— The federal minimum wage would be raised to $15 per hour from the current rate of $7.25 per hour.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Biden unveils $1.9T plan to stem virus and steady economy

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday to turn the tide on the pandemic, speeding up the vaccine rollout and providing financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.

Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. On a parallel track, it would deliver another round of aid to stabilize the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic, aides said.

It includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. The plan would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.

And it shoehorns in long-term Democratic policy aims such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children. The last item would make it easier for women to go back to work, which in turn would help the economy recover.

Read the full story here.

—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Bill Barrow, The Associated Press

State reports 2,729 new coronavirus cases and 38 new deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,729 new coronavirus cases and 38 new deaths on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 283,777 cases and 3,876 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

In addition, 16,074 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — six fewer than previously reported. (The state Department of Health removes hospitalizations, and deaths, from the statewide total when the primary cause is determined not to have been COVID-19.)

In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 71,646 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,144 deaths.

On Dec. 16, DOH’s case, hospitalization and death counts started including both confirmed cases and probable cases in its total count. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.

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.

—Nicole Brodeur

Oxygen shortage in Amazon city forces mass patient transfer

 Scores of COVID-19 patients in the Amazon rainforest’s biggest city will be transferred out of state as the local health system collapses and dwindling stocks of oxygen tanks mean Brazilians have started to die breathless at home.

Doctors in Manaus, a city of 2 million people, are choosing which patients to treat and at least one of the city’s cemeteries asks mourners to line up to enter and bury their dead.

The strains prompted Amazonas state’s government to say it will dispatch 235 patients who depend on oxygen, but aren’t in intensive-care units, to five other states and the capital, Brasilia.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Expanded vaccine rollout in US spawns a new set of problems

The rapid expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations to senior citizens across the U.S. has led to bottlenecks, system crashes and hard feelings in many states because of overwhelming demand for the shots.

Mississippi’s Health Department stopped taking new appointments the same day it began accepting them because of a “monumental surge” in requests. People had to wait hours to book vaccinations through a state website or a toll-free number Tuesday and Wednesday, and many were booted off the site because of technical problems and had to start over.

In California, counties begged for more coronavirus vaccine to reach millions of their senior citizens. Hospitals in South Carolina ran out appointment slots within hours. Phone lines were jammed in Georgia.

“It’s chaos,” said New York City resident Joan Jeffri, 76, who had to deal with broken hospital web links and unanswered phone calls before her daughter helped her secure an appointment. “If they want to vaccinate 80% of the population, good luck, if this is the system. We’ll be here in five years.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

VIRUS TODAY: Unemployment claims in US rise to 965,000

The number of people seeking unemployment aid soared last week to 965,000, the most since late August, offering evidence that the resurgent virus has caused a spike in layoffs.

The Labor Department issued the latest figures for jobless claims, which remain at levels never seen until the virus struck in March.

Before the pandemic, weekly applications typically numbered around 225,000.

Last spring, after nationwide shutdowns took effect, applications for jobless benefits spiked to nearly 7 million — 10 times the previous record high.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Third coronavirus vaccine site opened in Snohomish County

Snohomish County now has three drive-through vaccination sites with the opening Wednesday of a vaccine center at Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe.

The other two vaccination sites are at Paine Field in Everett, which began operation on January 6, and at Edmonds College, which opened Monday.

These sites are by appointment only and are for those who are in the current phase of coronavirus vaccination, the Snohomish County Vaccine Taskforce said on the Snohomish Health District's webpage.

Additional sites are in the planning stages and information on new sites, who is eligible, and how to get vaccinated in Snohomish County will continue to be updated at www.snohd.org/covidvaccine and bit.ly/SnoCoHub under the COVID-19 Vaccine button.

Up to 940 vaccinations can be administered per day between the three sites, the task force said. The sites are intended to augment shots provided by health care systems, which are administering the majority of the vaccinations.

Read more here.

—Christine Clarridge

Some are itching to work somewhere other than home; others love it

Before the pandemic, Jessica Hullman did not like to work from home.

A computer science professor at Northwestern University, just outside Chicago, Hullman, 40, drew energy from her students, she said. But away from campus, it dawned on her that the same students who fueled her also drained her focus with their frequent interruptions. In her mostly male department, she was often too aware of what she was wearing and how she appeared. Now she views Zoom faculty meetings as a kind of gender equalizer.

“It’s almost like everybody takes up the same amount of space,” she said. “What I realize is that I feel much happier working from home.”

Hullman is in no rush to return to the office.

Not so for 25-year-old Allie Micka, who moved from Boston to Washington, D.C., to start a new job as a solutions engineer at a tech firm, one she admired for its highly social culture. Micka imagined going out for after-work drinks and making lifelong friends. And the office was just as she had imagined – for exactly 10 days, before the coronavirus pandemic descended. Her now-virtual contact with her co-workers feels much too transactional. “As friendly as everyone is, it’s hard to just say ‘hi’ to get to know someone when you have no purpose for reaching out,” Micka said.

She cannot wait to be back in the office again.

The country is deep in the bleakest period of the pandemic, with thousands of Americans dying each day. That reality is not lost on affluent remote workers, who are quick to express gratitude for their own good fortune. They feel guilty complaining about Zoom fatigue and social isolation when they are working in relative safety and comfort.

Yet with the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of two coronavirus vaccines, many of these remote employees find themselves imagining the new shape of their work lives in a post-pandemic America. Some glimpse a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel; others see an oncoming train.

Read the story here.

—Sydney Trent, The Washington Post

Johnson & Johnson expects vaccine results soon but lags in production

Johnson & Johnson expects to release critical results from its COVID-19 vaccine trial in as little as two weeks — a potential boon in the effort to protect Americans from the coronavirus — but most likely won’t be able to provide as many doses this spring as it promised the federal government because of unanticipated manufacturing delays.

If the vaccine can strongly protect people against COVID-19, as some outside scientists expect, it would offer big advantages over the two vaccines authorized in the United States. Unlike those products, which require two doses, Johnson & Johnson’s could need just one, greatly simplifying logistics for local health departments and clinics struggling to get shots in arms. What’s more, its vaccine can stay stable in a refrigerator for months, whereas the others have to be frozen.

But the encouraging prospect of a third effective vaccine is tempered by apparent lags in the company’s production. 

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

What should I know about COVID-19 vaccines if I’m pregnant?

What should I know about COVID-19 vaccines if I’m pregnant?

Vaccination is likely the best way to prevent COVID-19 in pregnancy, when risks for severe illness and death from the virus are higher than usual.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says COVID-19 vaccinations should not be withheld from pregnant women, and that women should discuss individual risks and benefits with their health care providers.

The U.S. government’s emergency authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being rolled out for priority groups doesn’t list pregnancy as a reason to withhold the shots.

But the OB-GYN group says women should consult their doctors, since COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been tested in pregnant women. Evidence about safety and effectiveness is reassuring from studies that inadvertently included some women who didn’t know they were pregnant when they enrolled.

More answers are expected from upcoming research, including a study by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech expected to start early this year that will include pregnant women.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Christopher & Banks files bankruptcy, closes stores including 13 in Washington

Women’s clothing chain Christopher & Banks Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Wednesday, becoming the latest retailer to succumb to pandemic pressures and an evolving shopping environment.

The publicly traded chain said in a statement that it expects to close “a significant portion, if not all” of its 449 physical stores. Christopher & Banks determined that selling its brick-and-mortar locations “is not viable or achievable under the current circumstances” and will sell off other assets to repay creditors, court papers show. The retailer said it’s already in talks with a potential buyer for its e-commerce business.

Liquidation firm Hilco Merchant Services said it has been hired to conduct going-out-of-business sales at more than 400 stores.

In Washington state, it listed 13 locations, including Alderwood Mall, Kent, Puyallup and North Bend.

Read the story here.

—Jeremy Hill, Bloomberg

A day to remember: London nursing home greets virus vaccine

 In 1948, John Peake won a silver medal at the Olympic Games in London. In 2021, also in London, he struck what many would consider gold, receiving his first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Amid growing concerns over rising COVID outbreaks at nursing homes in Britain, the 96-year-old was one of the 45 residents at Wimbledon Beaumont Care Community in southwest London to receive the vaccine Wednesday developed by the University of Oxford and British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

“I’m glad to have it and I appreciate the fact that it has come to this place early,” he told The Associated Press after receiving his jab.

Peake was the youngest member of the 1948 British field hockey team that lost 4-0 to India in the final at Wembley Stadium in the first Olympics after World War II.

“I think I’m lucky to have lasted as long as I have,” he said.

Yet Peake, who is one of the oldest surviving Olympians, was not even the oldest to get the shot at the nursing home. That honor went to 102-year-old Joan Potts, who though in a wheelchair and clearly fragile, still had eyes that expressed wonder in the world.

Read the story here.

—Pan Pylas, The Associated Press

Army’s COVID-19 vaccine may hold key to beating coronavirus mutations

Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Research Institute have promising new data indicating their vaccine will work against significant mutations of COVID-19, as well as entirely different coronaviruses, an achievement that other vaccines so far have not accomplished.

The Walter Reed vaccine — named SpFN — differs from other vaccines in that it uses a soccer ball-shaped protein, allowing scientists to harness the spikes of multiple coronavirus strains on 24 different faces of the protein.

The data has yet to be peer reviewed. But the Army lab is hopeful that a pan-coronavirus vaccine is achievable after testing the drug on SARS, a coronavirus that emerged in 2003 with significant biological differences from the current pandemic disease known as SARS-CoV-2.

Tests of the vaccine against both SARS as well as emerging variants of COVID-19 have shown “very good responses,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Walter Reed’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch.

Read the story here.

—Michael Wilner and Tara Copp, McClatchy Washington Bureau

FAA grapples with COVID cleanups in air traffic centers

Flights were delayed when an air traffic control center near Jacksonville, Florida, had to close down for several hours for extensive cleaning after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Jacksonville International Airport tweeted Wednesday afternoon that the center would be closed “into the evening which may cause extensive delays and/or cancellations.” It advised passengers to check with their airlines regarding delayed flights.

It was the second time this year that the Federal Aviation Administration’s flight-control center in Hilliard has been closed for cleaning due to the coronavirus. Overall, the Hilliard facility has had 12 personnel testing positive since June, and the nearby Jacksonville International Airport tower also has had a dozen infections, according to data provided by the FAA.

The FAA data show hundreds of coronavirus infections among air traffic control workers since the pandemic began, a challenge the agency says it has met by scheduling most cleanings for overnight hours and with other ways of reducing the impact on air travel.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pledge to boost pandemic-depleted Washington tax revenues could boost sports gambling push

A renewed push is underway to expand sports betting in Washington state beyond tribal casinos, this time with a couple of noteworthy twists attached.

The filing Wednesday of a Senate bill aimed at widening the scope of such gambling to include the state’s licensed card rooms and racetracks is once again being driven by Nevada-based Maverick Gaming. But unlike a similar, failed effort last year, SB 5212 is now a bi-partisan push with the pitch that tax revenues derived from sports gambling can help the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The only legal sports gaming in Washington was signed into law last spring for Native American tribes, but has yet to take effect as government compacts are still being negotiated. Lawmakers last winter also rebuffed a Republican-sponsored bill seeking to open sports gambling to non-tribal competition. Maverick Gaming had pushed the bill, arguing unsuccessfully the state stood to gain financially through taxes generated by sports gaming beyond tribal casinos.

But that rejected argument happened before the pandemic triggered widespread business shutdowns and revenue losses the state is now trying to recoup.

“Some people are going to be supportive and some people aren’t, but at the end of the day the product that we’re trying to offer the state is what’s desired by constituents,’’ Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson said this week as the new Senate bill was being readied. “The tax revenues that we can generate are desired by Olympia.’’

Read the story here.

—Geoff Baker

Pharmacist accused of spoiling vaccine has license suspended

A state board on Wednesday suspended the license of a Wisconsin pharmacist accused of deliberately ruining more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine because he allegedly thought it could hurt people by changing their DNA.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, was working at Advocate Aurora Health in Grafton, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, when he was arrested last month following an investigation into the 57 spoiled vials of the Moderna vaccine. He has not been criminally charged. A status conference in the case is scheduled for Tuesday.

The Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board said in its order that Brandenburg cannot practice pharmacy while the suspension is in place.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Companies push incentives to get workers vaccinated

As vaccinations continue across the U.S., some companies are offering financial incentives to encourage their workers to get the shots.

Dollar General is one of the first major companies to announce extra pay for workers who get vaccinated. The Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based retailer, which operates nearly 17,000 stores in 46 states, said Wednesday it will give employees the equivalent of four hours of pay if they get the vaccine.

Dollar General said the extra pay is intended to compensate for the travel time, mileage and child care expenses that employees will incur to get the vaccine.

“We do not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work,” Dollar General said.

The retailer said it’s encouraging workers to get the vaccines, but not requiring them. In it annual report last February, the company said it had 143,000 employees.

A vaccine advisory panel at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control voted late last month on recommendations for vaccine distribution. The panel said grocery workers — which would include Dollar General’s employees — should be in the second group to receive shots after health care workers and nursing home residents.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago warned over coronavirus mask violations

President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club’s failure to enforce Palm Beach County’s mask ordinance at its New Year’s Eve bash has resulted in a warning but no fine or other punishment.

The county sent a letter to the club’s manager, Bernd Lembcke, on Wednesday telling him that future violations of the county’s coronavirus ordinance could result in fines of up to $15,000 per violation.

Video of the party shows that few of the 500 guests wore masks as they crowded the dance floor while rapper Vanilla Ice, Beach Boys co-founder Mike Love and singer Taylor Dayne performed.

Lembcke and the Trump Organization did not respond to calls Thursday seeking comment.

Democratic State Rep. Omari Hardy, who filed the complaint with the county, said last week that he finds it “offensive and disrespectful” that “these out-of-towners for one night couldn’t wear a mask.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

‘At 6 p.m., life stops’: Europe uses curfews to fight virus

 As the wan winter sun sets over France’s Champagne region, the countdown clock kicks in.

Laborers stop pruning the vines as the light fades at about 4:30 p.m., leaving them 90 minutes to come in from the cold, change out of their work clothes, hop in their cars and zoom home before a 6 p.m. coronavirus curfew.

Forget about any after-work socializing with friends, after-school clubs for children or doing any evening shopping beyond quick trips for essentials. Police on patrol demand valid reasons from people seen out and about. For those without them, the threat of mounting fines for curfew-breakers is increasingly making life outside of the weekends all work and no play.

“At 6 p.m., life stops,” says Champagne producer Alexandre Prat.

Trying to fend off the need for a third nationwide lockdown that would further dent Europe’s second-largest economy and put more jobs in danger, France is instead opting for creeping curfews. Big chunks of eastern France, including most of its regions that border Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, face 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. restrictions on movement.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

German lockdown loopholes criticized as deaths hit new high

Officials in Germany are considering tougher restrictions to curb the continued rise in infections as figures published Thursday showed the highest number of daily deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The Robert Koch Institute said 1,244 deaths from COVID-19 were confirmed in one day up to Thursday, taking the total number to 43,881. There were also 25,164 newly confirmed cases, putting Germany’s total known infections close to 2 million.

Lothar Wieler, president of the institute, said data indicated people in Germany are traveling more than during the first phase of the pandemic in spring, contributing to the virus’ spread.

German authorities have imposed restrictions on social contacts, largely closed schools and limited travel for those in areas with high infection rates, but the rules aren’t uniformly enforced across the country’s 16 states.

“To me, these measures we’re now taking aren’t a complete lockdown,” said Wieler. “There are still too many exceptions and they aren’t being strictly implemented.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

WHO finally lands in China to begin tracing the coronavirus. How hard will it be?

More than a year after a new coronavirus emerged in China, a team of experts from the World Health Organization finally arrived Thursday in the central city of Wuhan to begin hunting for its source, Chinese state media reported.

But tracing the source of the virus that has killed almost 2 million people worldwide and infected more than 92 million as of Thursday will be painstaking. While experts believe the virus originated naturally in animals, possibly bats, little else is known.

The investigation by the team of 10 scientists is a critical step in understanding how the virus jumped to humans from animals so that another pandemic can be avoided. Getting answers will most likely be difficult.

The Chinese government, notoriously wary of outside scrutiny, has repeatedly impeded the arrival of the team — and the investigation. Even in the best of circumstances, a full inquiry could take months, if not longer. The team must also navigate attempts by China to politicize the inquiry.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

Japan’s new virus emergency met with public indifference

Japan’s expanded state of emergency went into effect Thursday as the government seeks to stop a surge of new coronavirus infections, though with the restrictions not binding many people appeared to be ignoring the requests to avoid nonessential travel.

People were still commuting on crowded trains and buses in Osaka, Fukuoka and other areas of the seven new prefectures placed under the state of emergency. In Tokyo, where the emergency decree has already been in place for a week, the governor expressed concern about people not following the official guidance.

“... the number of people up and about in town has not been significantly reduced,” Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters. She said the state of emergency is not just about avoiding eating out at night or for restaurants to close early, but to reduce contacts among people.

“The virus has no calendar, clock or even a map. Day or night, or prefectural borders doesn’t matter,” she said. “Please avoid going out for nonessential purposes.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Older Washingtonians will be eligible for vaccines sooner than expected as the state speeds up its timeline. The teachers union and some state lawmakers are pushing to move educators higher in line, too, alarmed that most won't get shots until the school year is almost over. Hurrying vaccinations along is also a key part of the coronavirus action plan that President-elect Joe Biden is laying out today, along with a plea for ordinary Americans.

There's trouble with the big one-dose vaccine in the works. Johnson & Johnson expects trial results soon but is falling behind on production, and any delay could be critical in the U.S. vaccine push. But in better news, the Army’s vaccine may hold the key to beating mutations of the virus — and entirely different coronaviruses. 

If you test negative, can that clear you to see friends and family? Sorry, but no, for several reasons.

COVID-19 has been “an emergency” for women, Melinda Gates says. She talked with us about the solutions she’s proposing.

Detectives have finally landed in China to start tracing the pandemic's origins, but the World Health Organization's gumshoes won't have an easy hunt. Here's what they're looking for.

—Kris Higginson

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