Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Jan. 15, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled the “American Rescue Plan,” a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan that would speed up vaccines and send financial help to those struggling with the pandemic’s nearly year-long economic crisis.
Washington health officials have said they need to double, if not triple, the pace of immunizations to vaccinate and protect about 70% of Washington adults. On Thursday, a new Washington vaccine site drew thousands of people into a traffic jam at the drive-through clinic, which is located in Sequim and open to residents over 70 and their spouses.
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.
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
Biden: We’ll ‘manage the hell’ out of feds’ COVID response
WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to boost supplies of coronavirus vaccine and set up new vaccination sites to meet his goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. It’s part of a broader COVID strategy that also seeks to straighten out snags in testing and ensure minority communities are not left out.
“Some wonder if we are reaching too far,” Biden said Friday. “Let me be clear, I’m convinced we can get it done.”
The real payoff, Biden said, will come from uniting the nation in a new effort grounded in science.
Biden spoke a day after unveiling a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” to confront the virus and provide temporary support for a shaky economy. About $400 billion of the plan is focused on measures aimed at controlling the virus.
“You have my word: We will manage the hell out of this operation,” Biden declared.
CVS and Walgreens under fire for slow pace of vaccination in nursing homes
The effort to vaccinate some of the country’s most vulnerable residents against COVID-19 has been slowed by a federal program that sends retail pharmacists into nursing homes — accompanied by layers of bureaucracy and logistical snafus.
As of Thursday, more than 4.7 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID vaccines had been allocated to the federal pharmacy partnership, which has deputized pharmacy teams from Walgreens and CVS to vaccinate nursing home residents and workers.
Since the program started in some states on Dec. 21, however, they have administered about one-quarter of the doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Across the country, some nursing home directors and health care officials say the partnership is actually hampering the vaccination process by imposing paperwork and cumbersome corporate policies on facilities that are thinly staffed and reeling from the devastating effects of the coronavirus. They argue that nursing homes are unique medical facilities that would be better served by medical workers who already understand how they operate.
Optimistic banks start moving ‘bad’ loans back to ‘good’
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The pandemic and recession aren’t over by a long shot, but banks are feeling optimistic enough to start taking potentially “bad” loans off their books and move them back into the “good” pile.
The financial performance of the big U.S. banks has improved from earlier in 2020, when the virus pandemic walloped the global economy. JPMorgan and Wells Fargo saw fourth quarter profits rise; Citigroup’s profit fell in the last quarter of 2020, but increased from the third quarter.
The three banks have a more positive, though cautious outlook for the economy, which was reflected in an accounting maneuver each employed that contributed significantly to their better results.
JPMorgan reported a record profit of $12.14 billion, up from a profit of $8.52 billion a year earlier. Citigroup had a similar story, releasing $1.5 billion of its loan-loss reserves that it had set aside earlier last year. Wells Fargo released a modest amount of money from its reserves — less than $200 million.
Still, those amounts are just a fraction of the tens of billions of dollars into their so-called loan-loss reserves to cover potentially bad loans in the first months of the pandemic.
Oregon reports first case of United Kingdom COVID-19 variant
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon health officials have confirmed the state’s first case of the COVID-19 variant that’s been seen in the United Kingdom.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) said on Friday that a Multnomah County resident with no known travel history had tested positive for the variant COVID-19 virus strain.
“The detection of the first case of this variant strain is a concern, and we have been monitoring movement of this strain,” Dean Sidelinger, M.D., health officer and state epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority, said in a news release. “As we learn more about this case and the individual who tested positive for this strain, OHA continues to promote effective public health measures, including wearing masks, maintaining 6 feet of physical distance, staying home, washing your hands, and avoiding gatherings and travel.”
Multnomah County public health staff will work through the weekend to go back over details with this individual related to their isolation plan, contacts and any possible exposures, according to the news release.
Pandemic hit seafood industry hard, federal report says
The coronavirus pandemic has taken away about a third of the commercial fishing industry’s revenue, according to a federal report released on Friday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said revenues from catch brought to the docks by commercial fishermen fell 29% over the course of the first seven months of the year. Revenues declined every month from March to July, including a 45% decrease in July, the report said.
The NOAA report said the seafood industry at large has been hit hard by restaurant closures, social distancing protocols and the need for safety measures. NOAA’s findings back up earlier reports from independent scientists that said seafood harvesting and consumption were both down.
NOAA’s report also said 74% of aquaculture and related businesses experienced lost sales by the second quarter of 2020. International markets were also negatively affected by disruptions to seafood harvesting, shipping and processes, the report said.
California now reporting 525 virus deaths every day
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More Californians than ever are dying from the coronavirus — a knee-bucking 525 every day — and with the number expected to keep climbing state officials said Friday they are sending more refrigerated trailers to act as makeshift morgues for overwhelmed county coroner’s offices.
There are now 98 of the trailers to help county coroners store bodies “with respect and dignity,” Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said. In Los Angeles County, where on average a person dies every 6 minutes, temporary storage facilities have been set up in the parking lot adjacent to the coroner’s office.
The Office of Emergency Services is using state hospitalization data to anticipate how many people may die in coming weeks. The state analyzes multiple models to try to predict hospitalizations and deaths. The “ensemble” projection that combines all the models is estimating another 10,000 people will die in the next three weeks.
It could be at least two weeks before the state knows the full extent of the virus’ damage during the holiday season when many people ignored pleas to stay home and not gather with friends and extended family.
State health officials confirm 2,530 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,530 new coronavirus cases and 27 new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 285,970 cases and 3,903 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. Thursday.
The new cases may include up to 280 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 16,370 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 296 new hospitalizations. DOH noted Friday that the "unusually high" number of new hospitalizations is due to a backlog from this week's data.
In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 72,253 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,152 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.
CDC warns the new virus variant could fuel huge spikes in COVID cases
Federal health officials warned Friday that a far more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain could become the dominant source of infection in the United States by March, and would likely lead to a wrenching surge in cases and deaths that would further burden overwhelmed hospitals.
This dire forecast from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made plain what has been suspected for weeks now: The nation is in an urgent race to vaccinate as many Americans as possible before the variant spreads across the country.
Public health officials emphasized that protective measures already in place should work against the new variant, and urged Americans to redouble their vigilance in wearing face masks, in maintaining physical distance outside their households, washing hands frequently and limiting social interactions and indoor gatherings.
The variant is not known to be more deadly or to cause more severe disease. But the worrisome warning — hedged by limited data about just how prevalent the variant has become — landed at the end of a week when the nation’s nascent vaccination campaign appeared to be scattershot and still disappointingly elusive for most Americans.
Governors complain over pace of COVID-19 vaccine shipments
Governors bitterly accused the Trump administration Friday of deceiving the states about the amount of COVID-19 vaccine they can expect to receive as they ramp up vaccinations for senior citizens and others. But the government attributed the anger to confusion and misguided expectations on the part of the states.
Meanwhile, the race between the vaccine and the virus may be about to heat up: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the new, more infectious variant first seen in Britain will probably become the dominant version in the U.S. by March.
The CDC said the variant is about 50% more contagious than the virus that is causing the bulk of cases in this country.
“We want to sound the alarm,” said Dr. Jay Butler, CDC deputy director for infectious diseases.
The clash over the pace of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine allotments threatens to escalate tensions between the Trump administration and some states over who is responsible for the relatively slow start to the vaccination drive against the scourge that has killed over 390,000 Americans.
Why expansion of vaccine to smokers caused a stir
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey this week made millions of people eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, including smokers, a move that prompted gripes about them skipping to the front of the inoculation line.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy made people 65 and older and those 16 and older with medical conditions eligible to get the vaccine. That started Thursday. New Jersey’s list of conditions mirrors that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and includes cancer, kidney disease and other illnesses.
Also listed is smoking. Wait. Why?
Here’s a closer look at a question that grabbed headlines this week.
World Golf Championship moving from Mexico to Florida
The World Golf Championship is moving from Mexico City to the Gulf Coast of Florida this year, a change driven by the COVID-19 pandemic that has put restrictions on travel and kept away spectators.
The PGA Tour sent a memo to players Friday informing them of the relocation for Feb. 25-28. It will be played at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, co-designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin.
Still to be determined is the title sponsor for this year’s event at The Concession, which began in 1999 with a history of moving around the world. The Concession will be its ninth venue.
The tour said it plans to return to Mexico City in 2022.
Athletic trainers adapt to chaos of sports in a pandemic
Collegiate athletic trainers are used to being the calm amid chaos.
Screaming fans, blaring music from loudspeakers, coaches and players caught up in the heat of competition — all of it gets tuned out when a trainer is tending to an injured athlete. The coronavirus pandemic has added another constantly shifting layer to what they do.
The last 10 months have turned into a complicated juggling act of tending to athletes’ day-to-day needs while dealing with the intricacies that come with trying to play sports and keeping everyone safe — themselves included — in a pandemic.
The early days of the pandemic put athletic trainers in a delicate spot of trying to balance treating athletes while protecting themselves and their families against a deadly virus.
As scientists learned more about the complexities of the virus, trainers became more comfortable navigating the uncertain tides of the pandemic.
WHO cites human behavior more than variants as virus spreads
The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief said Friday that the impact of new variants of COVID-19 in places like Britain, South Africa and Brazil remains to be seen, citing human behavior for some recent rises in infection counts.
“It’s just too easy to lay the blame on the variant and say, ‘It’s the virus that did it,’” Dr. Michael Ryan told reporters. “Well unfortunately, it’s also what we didn’t do that did it.”
That was an allusion to holiday merrymaking and other social contacts plus loosening adherence — in pockets — to calls from public health officials for people to respect measures like physical distancing, regular hand hygiene and mask-wearing.
None of Washington state’s eight regions is ready for Phase 2 of reopening plan
None of Washington’s eight regions is ready to progress to Phase 2 of the state’s new reopening plan that began Monday, the state Department of Health said in a report released Friday.
The two-phase Healthy Washington plan requires that the state’s 39 counties, grouped into eight regions, work together to slow the spread of COVID-19 before moving into Phase 2 of the plan, which allows for businesses to open in some fashion.
The state’s initial Healthy Washington report released Jan. 8 showed the Puget Sound region meeting three of the four metrics in the plan to move to Phase 2, falling short only in the rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions. Friday’s report, the state’s second Healthy Washington update, shows the same.
Coronavirus variant would be ‘gasoline on a COVID-19 wildfire,’ King County public health official says
The more contagious strain of the coronavirus, prevalent in the United Kingdom, has yet to be found in Washington state.
But it's expected and when it shows up it could be like "throwing gasoline on a COVID-19 wildfire,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, at a briefing on Friday.
“Unless we take strong actions to stop it, more transmissible strains will lead to rapid, potentially explosive increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths," he said. "And this will compound the impact and suffering of COVID-19 across our communities and potentially overwhelm our hospitals.”
The U.K. variant has been detected in several U.S. states, including California, Florida and New York.
Duchin said high levels of COVID-19 transmission continue in the county, particularly in Kent, Auburn and Federal Way, with about 570 daily cases recorded over the past seven days.
Biden’s virus plan: 100 million shots just the start
Getting 100 million shots into Americans’ arms in his first 100 days is only the beginning of his coronavirus plan, President-elect Joe Biden declared Friday. Lasting impact, he said, will come from uniting the nation in a new effort grounded in science and fueled by billions in federal money for vaccination, testing and outbreak sleuths.
“You have my word: We will manage the hell out of this operation,” Biden said. But he also underscored a need for Congress to approve more money and for people to keep following basic precautions, such as wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and frequently washing their hands.
“This is not a political issue,” Biden said. “This is about saving lives. I know it’s become a partisan issue, but what a stupid, stupid thing to happen.”
Biden spoke a day after unveiling a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” to confront the virus and provide temporary support for a shaky economy. About $400 billion of the plan is focused on measures aimed at controlling the virus. Those range from mass vaccination centers to more sophisticated scientific analysis of new strains and squads of local health workers to trace the contacts of infected people.
Elvis Presley’s Graceland starting live virtual tours
Elvis Presley’s Graceland is now offering live online tours for fans around the world, including those who can’t travel to the Tennessee tourist attraction during the coronavirus pandemic.
The two-hour guided tours cost $100 and take virtual visitors into the museum of Presley’s former Memphis home and through the Meditation Garden, where he is buried. The singer and actor died in Memphis on Aug. 16, 1977.
Virtual tours are scheduled for Jan. 27, Feb. 25, and March 25, with more dates expected.
Lebanon OKs law to import vaccines as virus hits new record
Lebanon’s parliament approved a draft law allowing imports of coronavirus vaccines as the small nation hit a new record in case numbers Friday and more hospitals reported they were at full capacity.
The new daily toll of 6,154 cases and 44 deaths came on the second day of a nationwide 11-day curfew that the government and doctors hope will reign in the dramatic surge of the virus.
Lebanon, a tiny Mediterranean country of about 6 million people, has witnessed a sharp increase of cases in recent weeks, after some 80,000 expatriates flew in to celebrate Christmas and New Year.
On Friday, the American University Medical Center, one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals, said in a statement that its health care workers were overwhelmed.
Milan opens 1st fashion week with no VIP guests due to virus
Italy’s fashion chamber is opening on Friday the first Milan Fashion Week that won’t have VIPS populating runway front rows, as the reality of Italy’s persistent resurgence of the coronavirus has forced an all-virtual format for presenting menswear previews.
“We did everything to preserve some runway shows, but the anti-COVID norms in this moment don’t allow us to have guests, and therefore, the runway shows will be closed-door,” fashion chamber president Carlo Capasa said.
Capasa acknowledged that closed-door shows deprive fashion of some of its energy. But the pandemic, which has all but shut down global travel and closed retail stores for long periods , has made fashion houses quickly update their digital communication strategies and e-commerce platforms, he said.
EU regulator: Hackers ‘manipulated’ stolen vaccine documents to undermine trust
The European Union’s drug regulator said Friday that COVID-19 vaccine documents stolen from its servers in a cyberattack have been not only leaked to the web, but “manipulated” by hackers.
The European Medicines Agency said that an ongoing investigation into the cyberattack showed that hackers obtained emails and documents from November related to the evaluation of experimental coronavirus vaccines.
“Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines,” the agency said.
It said that given the devastating toll of the pandemic, there was an “urgent public health need to make vaccines available to EU citizens as soon as possible.” The EMA insisted that despite that urgency, its decisions to recommend the green-lighting of vaccines were based “on the strength of the scientific evidence on a vaccine’s safety, quality and efficacy, and nothing else.”
The agency, which is based in Amsterdam, came under heavy criticism from Germany and other EU member countries in December for not approving vaccines against the virus more quickly.
WA National Guard warns of false quarantine notice
Please don't spread false and fear-mongering information about the National Guard, the Washington National Guard said on Friday.
The dispatch, which states that the Guard will be sending in troops to enforce a mandatory coronavirus quarantine, was started to "create fear," the Washington National Guard said on Twitter.
The official-looking post was first seen on social media in March.
"If you see it come across your feed, please do not encourage the spread."
Norway adjusts advice after vaccine deaths but isn’t alarmed
Norwegian officials have adjusted their advice on who gets the COVID-19 vaccine in light of a small number of deaths in older people, leaving it up to each doctor to consider who should be vaccinated.
The Norwegian Medicines Agency on Thursday reported a total of 29 people had suffered side effects, 13 of them fatal. All the deaths occurred among patients in nursing homes and all were over the age of 80.
More than 30,000 people have received the first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine in the Scandinavian country since the end of December, according to official figures.
“We are not alarmed by this. It is quite clear that these vaccines have very little risk, with a small exception for the frailest patients,” Steinar Madsen, medical director with the agency, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
Spain rejects virus confinement as most of Europe stays home
While most of Europe kicked off 2021 with earlier curfews or stay-at-home orders, authorities in Spain insist the new coronavirus variant causing havoc elsewhere is not to blame for a sharp resurgence of cases and that the country can avoid a full lockdown even as its hospitals fill up.
The government has been tirelessly fending off drastic home confinement like the one that paralyzed the economy for nearly three months in the spring of 2020, the last time Spain could claim victory over the stubborn rising curve of cases.
In the past month, 14-day rates more than doubled, from 188 cases per 100,000 residents on Dec. 10 to 522 per 100,000 on Thursday. Nearly 39,000 new cases were reported Wednesday and over 35,000 on Thursday, some of the highest daily increases to date.
Officials in Spain insist it will be enough to take short, highly localized measures that restrict social gatherings without affecting the whole economy.
White House, tribes joined to deliver Alaska Native vaccines
A partnership with the White House has reduced disparities in Alaska Native access to COVID-19 testing, treatment and protective equipment, tribal health care leaders said.
The administration’s coronavirus initiative has treated Indigenous tribes as sovereign governments and set aside special vaccine shipments, Alaska Public Media reported Thursday.
Operation Warp Speed, as the initiative is known, designated vaccine doses for tribes in the same manner as for the Department of Defense, Veterans Health Administration and Bureau of Prisons.
The federal government distributed more than 35,000 doses to Alaska tribes, in addition to 78,000 doses to Alaska’s state government. More than 250,000 doses were dedicated to tribes nationwide through the Indian Health Service.
“It’s something to celebrate,” Alaska Native Health Board CEO Verné Boerner. “When you embrace tribes and tribal sovereignty, you can bring so much more to the state.”
Tribal shipments have afforded broad vaccine access for rural and Indigenous Alaskans and expanded availability of doses beyond older people.
NBA coaches say they have to ‘do better’ wearing masks
The NBA gave Orlando coach Steve Clifford a call recently, telling him he had to do a better job of keeping his mask on during games.
Clifford’s answer was concise.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
He didn’t argue. He knows the rules, and how important they are.
It has been a rough week for the NBA, with nine games postponed since Sunday amid positive COVID-19 tests for some players and potential exposures determined through contact tracing keeping others off the floor for several days. The league and the National Basketball Players Association earlier this week stiffened the protocols that players must live by during these delicate times, and coaches aren’t exempt from saying they need to be more diligent on the safety front as well — particularly when it comes to masks.
Properly wearing masks is part of life now, not just NBA life, as part of the effort to fend off the coronavirus.
But when coaches feel the need to yell — which, let’s face it, is often — many still succumb to the urge to tug the mask down and make sure their voice is heard without whatever muffling can be caused by a thin piece of fabric.
Senator-elect Warnock receives 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Senator-elect Raphael Warnock of Georgia has received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Warnock shared a video of himself getting the vaccine and encouraged people on Friday to “trust science and listen to experts, continue to social distance, and wear a mask.”
Warnock, who is pastor of the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, beat Republican Kelly Loeffler in one of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs on Jan. 5.
Warnock’s announcement comes as less than 2% of the populations of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina had been given a first dose of the vaccine as of the beginning of this week, according to data from the states and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pfizer temporarily reduces European deliveries of vaccine
U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer confirmed Friday it will temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe of its COVID-19 vaccine while it upgrades production capacity to 2 billion doses per year.
“This temporary reduction will affect all European countries,” a spokeswoman for Pfizer Denmark said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Line Fedders said that to meet the new 2 billion dose target, Pfizer is upscaling production at its plant in Puurs, Belgium, which “presupposes adaptation of facilities and processes at the factory which requires new quality tests and approvals from the authorities.”
“As a consequence, fewer doses will be available for European countries at the end of January and the beginning of February,” she said.
When will we reach herd immunity? Q&A with Washington's new health secretary
When will we reach herd immunity in Washington state? Why are so many of our doses still in the bottle? What is the holdup? What about people over 65; do they have to wait till May?
For the answers to these and other questions, The Seattle Times sat down for a video chat on Wednesday with Dr. Umair Shah, who took over the top post at the Washington state Department of Health last month.
Shah came to Washington as cases of COVID-19 crested their peak and during the second week of vaccine administration. The vaccine rollout nationwide and in Washington has been slower than many had hoped. Shah shared his thoughts on what needs to improve and when we might approach herd immunity in Washington.
World's death toll from COVID-19 hits 2 million
The global death toll from COVID-19 topped 2 million Friday as vaccines developed at breakneck speed are being rolled out around the world in an all-out campaign to vanquish the threat.
The milestone was reached just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The number of dead is compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
One year ago today, a Snohomish County man got off a flight from China with COVID though he didn't know it yet
One year ago today a Snohomish County man in his 30s, who had been traveling in Wuhan, China, arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
He had no symptoms.
Four days later, he contacted doctors when he developed a fever and a cough. He was hospitalized for pneumonia and confirmed to have the coronavirus, becoming the first originally confirmed case in the United States of COVID-19.
The report of the first death from COVID at Life Care Center of Kirkland became public on Feb. 29. Within a four-week span, 39 residents of the Eastside facility had died from the disease.
By April, the virus had infected one in five nursing homes, 163 facilities, and more than 200 people in the state had died.
On Wednesday, the state Department of Health (DOH) reported a total of 283,777 cases and 3,876 deaths in Washington.
The nation's death toll is now above 380,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, and more than 2 million people around the world have died of the virus.
How will you mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Here are Seattle-area virtual events to choose from, plus a look at what else is happening this weekend.
It's National Bagel Day, and you could celebrate by making your own. We're partial to this recipe for hot, fresh bagels that take just over an hour.
Comfort food when we need it most: These five takeout soups include old favorites and new delights.
Tom Hanks goes adventuring in the epic Western "News of the World." Here's the review.
‘A horrible surprise for any business’ — Washington lawmakers weigh bill exempting businesses from taxes on COVID-19 aid
Many Washington businesses have had to survive a slew of crises during the COVID-19 pandemic, from government shutdown orders to customers staying away from some stores, to drop-offs in entire industry sectors.
But businesses surviving on government aid have had another vexing headache: the possibility of paying taxes on the relief dollars they received.
“That’s a horrible surprise for any business,” said Rep. Amy Walen, D-Kirkland.
Now, Walen and others are sponsoring a bill to fix that with a proposal that could provide a measure of relief for as many as 100,000 taxpayers across the state.
House Bill 1095 is one of several proposals by lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee intended to help businesses amid the governor’s emergency restrictions on commerce to slow the spread of the virus.
The bill provides exemptions for the Business & Occupation tax, as well as taxes on public utilities and retail sales that would apply to qualifying grants received since Feb. 29 of last year, the day Inslee declared an emergency for the pandemic.
Biden team retiring ‘Warp Speed’ name from vaccination push
President-elect Joe Biden’s overhaul of the U.S. coronavirus vaccination program will include largely abandoning President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” moniker, according to people familiar with the matter.
Biden will detail his plan later Friday, after unveiling his push for a new pandemic relief package from Congress and appointing a series of new medical advisers. None of the announcements, however, used the Warp Speed brand that Trump’s administration created.
Biden’s team wants to emphasize the scientific rigor of the vaccine development program and its new focus on hastening vaccinations, the people said, asking not to be identified because there hasn’t been an official announcement.
Vaccine hopes dashed: Reserve was already exhausted when Trump administration vowed to release it
When Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the federal government would begin releasing coronavirus vaccine doses held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve existed, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans. The Trump administration had already begun shipping out what was available beginning at the end of December, taking second doses directly off the manufacturing line.
Now, health officials across the country who had anticipated their extremely limited vaccine supply as much as doubling beginning next week are confronting the reality that their allocations will not immediately increase, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding eligibility for millions of elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions.
Health officials in some cities and states were informed in recent days about the reality of the situation, while others are still in the dark.
Because both of the vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States are two-dose regimens, the Trump administration’s initial policy was to hold back second doses to protect against the possibility of manufacturing disruptions. But that approach shifted in recent weeks, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. The result is that next week’s allocations will remain flat.
Hundreds swarmed Brooklyn vaccine site over message promising extra doses. It was ‘misinformation,’ mayor says.
One after another, desperate New Yorkers trekked to the back of a line that snaked around corners and down several blocks in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood on Thursday evening. It was chilly and dark, but the wait was worth it for hundreds lured by a viral message promising a rare find: a leftover dose of coronavirus vaccine.
“We need to give out 410+ doses in the next 4 hours at Brooklyn Army Terminal (by 7 p.m.), taking anyone in community age 18+, walk ins, or earlier than scheduled,” read the WhatsApp message.
By early evening, the New York mayor’s office took to Twitter to warn that the memo was “misinformation” and that “there is NOT available vaccine for people without appointments.”
But that news didn’t make it in time for the crowd swarming the 24/7 site, where staff quickly became overwhelmed dealing for hours with the confused masses.
The chaotic scene reflects the country’s disorganized and slow vaccine rollout. So far, roughly a third of the vaccines distributed throughout the country have been used.
New Jersey thinks smokers should go to the front of the vaccine line; critics disagree
As New Jersey expands its coronavirus vaccine distribution this week, state officials announced that anyone 65 or over can now get the shots, as well as those between 16-64 with certain medical conditions.
One group covered among those medical conditions, though, has raised backlash – namely, the state’s roughly 2 million smokers, who can now get the vaccine before teachers or public transit workers.
State officials say smokers should be a priority for the nearly 732,000 doses New Jersey has received so far because, just like those suffering from other underlying medical conditions, they run the risk of experiencing more severe covid-19 symptoms.
But critics disagree.
“This would not be a group that would bubble up to high priority,” Eric Topol, a cardiologist and the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told The Washington Post. “Just smoking doesn’t cut it in my view,” arguing that only smokers also suffering from a chronic respiratory condition should get early vaccines.
The conflict highlights the difficult decisions that state officials must make in deciding how to deliver millions of doses of the vaccine and who should get first dibs, a process that has been delayed and hampered by uneven federal coordination, experts say.
Online sign-ups complicate vaccine rollout for older people
Howard Jones, who’s 83, was on the phone for three to four hours every day trying to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine.
Jones, who lives alone in Colorado Springs, doesn’t have the internet, and that’s made it much more difficult for him to make an appointment. It took him about a week. He said the confusion has added to his anxiety about catching what could be a life-threatening disease at his age.
“It has been hell,” Jones said. “I’m 83 and to not have the use of a computer is just terrible.”
As states across the U.S. roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to people 65 and older, senior citizens are scrambling to figure out how to sign up to get their shots. Many states and counties ask people to make appointments online, but glitchy websites, overwhelmed phone lines and a patchwork of fast-changing rules are bedeviling older people who are often less tech-savvy, may live far from vaccination sites and are more likely to not have internet access at all, especially people of color and those who are poor.
Nearly 9.5 million seniors, or 16.5% of U.S. adults 65 and older, lack internet access, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Read the story here.
Another recession looms for UK economy as lockdowns bite
The British economy looks set to fall back into recession after official figures on Friday showed that it shrank by 2.6% month-on-month in November, when much of the country was in a second coronavirus lockdown.
The Office for National Statistics said that as a result of the fall, the economy is 8.5% smaller than its pre-pandemic peak. When the pandemic struck last spring, the economy contracted by up to a fifth over the first half of the year, before a summer easing of restrictions saw the economy recover a chunk of those losses.
Because of the November fall, the economy is set to contract again in the fourth quarter.
With most of the U.K. in an even tighter lockdown at the start of 2021 following a spike in new cases that has been blamed on a new variant of the virus in London and southeast England, it looks inevitable that the economy will shrink further in the first quarter of the year. That means it will have contracted for two consecutive quarters, the technical definition of a recession.
“It’s clear things will get harder before they get better and today’s figures highlight the scale of the challenge we face,” said Britain’s Treasury chief Rishi Sunak.
China builds new quarantine center as virus cases rise
China is building a 3,000-unit quarantine facility in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei province, to deal with an anticipated overflow of patients as COVID-19 cases rise ahead of the annual Lunar New Year travel rush.
The spike in northern China comes as a World Health Organization team prepares to collect data on the origin of the pandemic in Wuhan, which lies to the south. The international team, most of which arrived Thursday, must undergo two weeks of quarantine before it can begin field visits.
China has largely contained domestic spread of the virus, but the recent spike has raised concern due to the proximity to the capital, Beijing, and the impending rush of people planning to travel large distances to rejoin their families for the Lunar New Year, the country’s most important traditional festival.
Huge line for mass vaccination site: a preview of what’s to come
Randall Thomas, 71, snapped this photo as he waited for a vaccine yesterday in Sequim, only to be turned away just 10 cars from the cutoff.
He might camp out there tonight so he can get a vaccine tomorrow, because “I just want to hold my wife,” who's in an adult family home.
The line stretched more than a mile as the clinic gave shots to older Sequim residents, reflecting concerns about moving into new vaccination phases before the supply can match demand.
Another cautionary tale comes from a New York vaccine site that hundreds of people swarmed because of misinformation.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Washington is nowhere near the vaccination rate it needs to reach herd immunity among adults in seven months. The strategy for doubling or tripling the pace includes mass vaccination clinics, mobile teams — and possibly changes in who gets priority for the shots.
• It's likely a new virus variant has already arrived in our state, but that's hard to know as surveillance falls short, researchers say. And as one puts it, “If you can’t see the fires starting, you might be in big trouble."
• When can we skip to the next phase of Washington's reopening plan? Our FAQ breaks down how this works, along with what you can and can’t do right now.
• It will take $1.9 trillion to combat the virus and economic crisis, but "failure … will cost us dearly," President-elect Joe Biden said yesterday as he laid out his sweeping aid plan. Among the highlights: $1,400 direct payments to individuals. Five of Biden's claims raised fact-checkers' eyebrows.
• Washington businesses may be facing "a horrible surprise": a tax bill on the COVID-19 aid they received. State lawmakers are working to avoid that. Meanwhile, here's which small businesses qualify for a second round of relief.
• How to think about traveling now that vaccines are out: Medical professionals are urging caution and providing guidance on safe travel in the months ahead.
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