The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidelines Friday to add that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19. The masks, which are used by health care workers, are better at filtering the air but were in short supply early in the pandemic.
While COVID-19 tests have been scarce in recent weeks, the free tests President Joe Biden promised U.S. residents will be available through COVIDTests.gov beginning Jan. 19. Additionally, the tests will be sent to people’s homes without a shipping charge, but each household can only request up to four tests.
The move to provide free tests to people came after the Biden administration was widely criticized for low inventories causing long lines or forcing testing centers to turn people away. Biden said Thursday he planned to buy 1 billion tests, double the amount he initially promised.
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.
Navigating the pandemic
- How to get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster in Washington state
- Should you still wear a mask after mandates lift? How to tackle that choice
- How to navigate the COVID pandemic in the Seattle area: resources on masks, tests, vaccines and more
Beijing reports first local omicron case ahead of Olympics
HONG KONG (AP) — Beijing has reported its first local omicron infection, according to state media, weeks before the Winter Olympic Games are due to start.
The infected person lives and works in the city’s northwestern district of Haidian and had no travel history outside of Beijing for the past two weeks. The individual experienced symptoms on Thursday and was tested on Friday for COVID-19, officials said in a news conference Saturday during which they confirmed the infection.
The infection comes less than three weeks before the Winter Olympic Games’ opening ceremony on Feb 4., and around two weeks before the start of Lunar New Year celebrations in China.
So far, multiple cities in China have reported omicron infections, including Shanghai, the western city of Xi’an, cities in southern Guangdong province such as Zhuhai and Zhongshan, and the city of Tianjin, which is 30 minutes from Beijing by high-speed rail. More here.
As nations decide to live with the virus, some disease experts warn of surrendering too soon
Nations around the planet are making a subtle but consequential pivot in their war against the coronavirus: Crushing the virus is no longer the strategy. Many countries are just hoping for a draw.
It’s a strategic retreat, signaled in overt and subtle ways from Washington to Madrid to Pretoria, South Africa, to Canberra, Australia. Notably, few countries today outside of China — which is still locking down cities — cling to a “zero-covid” strategy.
The phrase often heard now in the United States and many other nations is “live with the virus.” That new stance is applauded by some officials and scientists, and welcomed by people exhausted with the hardships and disruptions of this global health emergency entering its third year.
But there are also disease experts who fear the pendulum will swing too far the other way. They worry that many world leaders are gambling on a relatively benign outcome from this omicron variant surge, and sending messages that will lead people who are normally prudent to abandon the social distancing and mask-wearing known to limit the pathogen’s spread. Epidemiologists say the live-with-it strategy underestimates the dangers posed by omicron. More here.
Gov. Youngkin pick for medical adviser bucks trends on COVID
Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin has named a respected physician who opposes blanket vaccine mandates and downplayed the threat of the coronavirus to children as his lead adviser on pandemic response.
The choice of Marty Makary, a Johns Hopkins surgeon and Fox contributor, signals that Youngkin, a Republican, will upend outgoing Democratic governor and pediatric neurologist Ralph Northam’s approach to public policy at a critical time in the pandemic, political science and health experts say.
Makary will probably have influence over how Youngkin handles vaccine mandates for health-care workers as well as K-12 schools and public colleges and universities – policies the governor rejected on the campaign trail – potentially leaving Virginia an outlier in the region.
Makary’s nomination came days before Youngkin’s inauguration on Saturday as the 74th governor of Virginia, amid a flurry of announcements that – like the new governor’s campaign team – include a mix of movement conservatives and establishment stalwarts.
COVID, China, climate: Online Davos event tackles big themes
GENEVA (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has forced the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting of world leaders, business executives and other heavyweights to go virtual for the second year in a row, but organizers still hope to catapult the world into thinking about the future with a scaled-down online version this week.
The gathering, an online alternative to the event typically held in the Swiss ski town of Davos, will feature speeches by the leaders of countries including China, India, Israel, Japan and Germany as well as panel discussions with business, government and philanthropy figures like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert who will talk about COVID-19, and Bill Gates and John Kerry, who are expected to discuss climate change.
It's impossible for the Davos crowd to overlook the health crisis that has upended its plans for the last two years.
The pandemic gets a top billing on Monday, with Fauci and the CEO of vaccine maker Moderna joining a panel discussion that addresses what’s next for COVID-19, which has taken several big turns as the omicron variant sweeps the globe.
GOP Sen. Roger Marshall plans bill to publicize Fauci’s salary
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., is planning to introduce legislation that would publicize Dr. Anthony Fauci’s salary and financial holdings after the COVID-19 pandemic leader was caught calling the lawmaker a “moron” on a hot microphone.
The conservative senator hopes the Financial Accountability for Uniquely Compensated Individuals would make it easier for Americans to find out the salary and see financial disclosures of top government officials.
Fauci, who makes more than $400,000 a year as President Joe Biden’s top health adviser, correctly says the information is already public, and all that Marshall needed to do was ask.
There was no immediate word on when Marshall might introduce the bill or its prospects for success in the Democratic-controlled Congress. He has not yet released a text of the proposed legislation.
As the omicron semester starts, online or in person, colleges are tense
LEXINGTON, Ky. – By 9 a.m. on the first day of the spring term, 15 or so students in the University of Kentucky’s honors college had settled into their seats here for a seminar on knowledge and society. Eric Welch, their instructor, mused about how to pronounce omicron – with a short or long “o” in the first syllable? – and lamented that he couldn’t see more than half of their masked faces. He told them it would be an easy A if they show up and do the work.
“Your presence in this class matters,” Welch said.
That same morning, Jason Mollica greeted roughly a dozen American University students in his communication course on digital analytics. They were not meeting on the D.C. campus. Students, scattered near and far, logged in through video links from bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms. Mollica spoke from his home in Rockville, Md.
“Sorry that we’re seeing each other again on Zoom,” Mollica said. “But this will, hopefully, be temporary.”
College is resuming this month across America in a tense and bumpy sequence of openings – in person here, remote there – and shadowed everywhere by the threat of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus. The upheaval began in December with a flurry of shifts to online final exams and canceled campus events.
What this surge will mean for campuses in coming weeks remains unclear. Students and professors worry about the public health risks of staying open and the educational risks of pausing.
Yet for all the unknowns, the initial data on this omicron semester suggests that most colleges and universities are sticking with face-to-face instruction. As of this week, about 10% to 15% of 500 prominent schools tracked by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College had announced plans to start the spring term remotely. A smaller share, perhaps 5 percent, delayed openings.
Halting progress and happy accidents: How mRNA vaccines were made
Thousands of miles from Dr. Barney Graham’s lab in Bethesda, Maryland, a frightening new coronavirus had jumped from camels to humans in the Middle East, killing 1 out of every 3 people infected. An expert on the world’s most intractable viruses, Graham had been working for months to develop a vaccine but had gotten nowhere.
Now he was terrified that the virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, had infected one of his lab’s own scientists, who was sick with a fever and a cough in fall 2013 after a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
A nose swab came back positive for a coronavirus, seeming to confirm Graham’s worst fears, only for a second test to deliver relief: It was a mild coronavirus, causing a common cold, not MERS.
Graham had a flash of intuition: Perhaps it would be worth taking a closer look at this humdrum cold virus.
The decision to study a colleague’s bad cold gave rise to critical discoveries. Together with other chance breakthroughs that seemed insignificant at the time, it would lead eventually to the mRNA vaccines now protecting hundreds of millions of people from COVID-19.
They remain a marvel: Even as the omicron variant fuels a new wave of the pandemic, the vaccines have proved remarkably resilient at defending against severe illness and death. And the manufacturers, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna, say that mRNA technology will allow them to adapt the vaccines quickly to fend off whatever dangerous new version of the virus that evolution brings next.
A digital divide haunts schools adapting to virus hurdles
When April Schneider’s children returned to in-person classrooms this year, she thought they were leaving behind the struggles from more than a year of remote learning. No more problems with borrowed tablets. No more days of missed lessons because her kids couldn’t connect to their virtual schooling.
But coronavirus cases in her children’s New York City classrooms, and the subsequent quarantines, sent her kids back to learning from home. Without personal devices for each child, Schneider said they were largely left to do nothing while stuck at home.
“So there you go again, with no computer, and you’re back to square one as if COVID just begun all over again in a smaller form,” Schneider said.
As more families pivot back to remote learning amid quarantines and school closures, reliable, consistent access to devices and home internet remains elusive for many students who need them to keep up with their schoolwork. Home internet access for students has improved since the onset of the pandemic with help from philanthropy, federal relief funding and other efforts — but obstacles linger, including a lack of devices, slow speeds and financial hurdles.
Concerns around the digital divide have shifted toward families that are “underconnected” and able to access the internet only sporadically, said Vikki Katz, a communication professor at Rutgers University.
Medical professionals urge Spotify to crack down on COVID misinformation
Hundreds of scientists, professors, doctors, nurses and other public health professionals have urged Spotify to crack down on misinformation about COVID-19 on its streaming platform.
In an open letter published online this week, the experts singled out an episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” that featured Robert Malone, an infectious disease researcher who claims to have created the mRNA technology used in some coronavirus vaccines but has become an outspoken vaccine skeptic. They said Rogan had a “concerning history” of advancing inaccurate claims on his podcast, particularly about the pandemic.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the letter said. It also called on the company “to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”
Spotify declined to comment on the record. The company has said that it prohibits dangerous, false or deceptive content about COVID-19 that may cause offline harm or pose a threat to public health.
Deja vu for Novak Djokovic, detained again in Australian hotel before second court battle
It was deja vu for Novak Djokovic on Saturday as the tennis star was detained for a second time by Australian authorities and placed back in the very same hotel he’d triumphantly left just this week.
The strange scene of the world’s top-ranked men’s player again being escorted into a hotel housing asylum seekers came on the eve of a court hearing to decide whether Djokovic will be deported or allowed to remain in the country to compete in the Australian Open.
A day earlier, Australia’s immigration minister had canceled Djokovic’s visa for the second time on the grounds that the unvaccinated tennis player’s presence might incite anti-vaccine sentiment Down Under.
Clap, don’t chant: China aims for ‘Zero COVID’ Olympics
Athletes will need to be vaccinated — or face a long quarantine — take tests daily and wear masks when not competing or training. Clapping is OK to cheer on teammates, not chanting. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be sent into isolation and unable to compete until cleared for discharge.
Welcome to the Beijing Olympics, where strict containment measures will aim to create a virus-proof “bubble” for thousands of international visitors at a time when omicron is fueling infections globally.
Expect more worrisome variants after omicron, scientists say
Get ready to learn more Greek letters. Scientists warn that omicron’s whirlwind advance practically ensures it won’t be the last version of the coronavirus to worry the world.
Every infection provides a chance for the virus to mutate, and omicron has an edge over its predecessors: It spreads way faster despite emerging on a planet with a stronger patchwork of immunity from vaccines and prior illness.
That means more people in whom the virus can further evolve. Experts don’t know what the next variants will look like or how they might shape the pandemic, but they say there’s no guarantee the sequels of omicron will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them.
They urge wider vaccination now, while today’s shots still work.
Countries face a ‘Wild West’ scramble for COVID pills
Antiviral COVID-19 pills developed by U.S. firms promise to be a pandemic game-changer. But even as some countries begin to roll out the highly anticipated drugs, others have raised concerns that shortages and manufacturing chaos could hamper global supply.
“We heard there is not enough supply to ensure the world access to these medicines,” Colombian Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said. He added that he had “so many worries” that global access to the pills would end up mirroring the vaccine shortages.
Ruiz has reasons to fear. Wealthier countries have already advance purchased much of the supply of treatments expected to be available in the first half of 2022. Effective use of the pills — which include Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir, codeveloped with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Emory University — also requires access to coronavirus tests, which remain scarce in many places.
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