Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, January 16, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
On the day the global death toll from COVID-19 topped 2 million, United States health officials warned that the variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain could become the dominant source of infection in the country by March.
In Washington, none of the state’s eight regions is ready to progress to Phase 2 of the state’s new reopening plan that began Monday. If the virus variant continues to spread, it will be like “throwing gasoline on a COVID-19 wildfire,” a King County health officer said Friday.
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.
Chinese city reports coronavirus found on ice cream
BEIJING (AP) — The coronavirus was found on ice cream produced in eastern China, prompting a recall of cartons from the same batch, according to the government.
The Daqiaodao Food Co., Ltd. in Tianjin, adjacent to Beijing, was sealed and its employees were being tested for the coronavirus, a city government statement said. There was no indication anyone had contracted the virus from the ice cream.
Most of the 29,000 cartons in the batch had yet to be sold, the government said. It said 390 sold in Tianjin were being tracked down and authorities elsewhere were notified of sales to their areas.
The ingredients included New Zealand milk powder and whey powder from Ukraine, the government said.
The Chinese government has suggested the disease, first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, came from abroad and has highlighted what it says are discoveries of the coronavirus on imported fish and other food, though foreign scientists are skeptical.
Flattening COVID-19 numbers bring hope in California
Despite hospitals overflowing with patients, heartbreaking numbers of deaths and COVID-19 infection rates hovering at dangerous levels, there are some signs that the daily increase in the number of coronavirus cases is beginning to flatten in California.
It may take a few more days or weeks to be assured of the trend — and the flattening could be reversed if people ease up further on mask wearing and social distancing. But a number of state and local officials are voicing cautious optimism that the unrestrained, exponential daily worsening of the pandemic has slowed.
Gov. Gavin Newsom described the flattening numbers as “light at the end of the tunnel,” adding that the coronavirus test positivity rate and the number of people in hospitals and intensive care units with COVID-19 have been declining.
“We’ve seen some encouraging signs,” Newsom said. “But now, more than ever, it’s incumbent upon us not to let our guard down, not to let our masks off and to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to maintain that discipline purposefulness to work our way through yet another surge.”
Even in hard-hit Los Angeles County, there were glimmers Friday that the crisis might no longer be worsening, at least for now. But conditions in hospitals are so dire that officials say there is little to celebrate, and there remains concern that things could worsen quickly.
Read the full story.
CDC: Southern states lag behind much of US in administering virus vaccine
As the United States rolls out COVID-19 vaccines, some Southern states are lagging behind.
As of Friday, six states in the Southeast had among the nation’s lowest rates of vaccine doses administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have all given out fewer than 3,000 doses of the vaccine per 100,000 residents, data show.
Those rates are some of the lowest in the country.
States with the highest rates include Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia, where more than 6,000 doses have been administered per 100,000 people.
So what’s behind the lag in parts of the South?
One reason could be that some Southern states are receiving fewer vaccine doses.
Read the full story.
'Technical challenges' stymie updates to COVID case data on Saturday
Washington's latest COVID-19 case numbers won't be updated Saturday due to "technical challenges," the state's Department of Health announced in a message posted to its coronavirus data dashboard Saturday.
"The Department of Health experienced technical challenges processing COVID-19 data today," according to the announcement. "As a result the COVID-19 dashboards will not be updated today. If the problems are resolved we will update the dashboard on Sunday January 17, 2021."
Washington's total number of COVID-19 cases stood at 285,970, as of the state's last update with umbers through 11:59 p.m. Thursday. In all, the pandemic has resulted in 3,903 deaths and 16,370 people who've been hospitalized in the state due to the virus.
Because the state doesn't update its data on holidays, the DOH announcement also noted there will be no dashboard updates on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"We will resume our regular reporting schedule on Tuesday, January 19, 2021," the announcement said.
It's not the first time public reporting of Washington's coronavirus case data has been hampered by technical troubles.
A flood of coronavirus testing data at the end of March overwhelmed the state’s disease reporting system, resulting in a lag in new case updates until a software fix was made. In June, the state announced it had been over-reporting negative test results for about two months due to problems with a system workaround meant to address the high volume of negative cases.
From late July into mid-August, DOH variously blamed an overwhelmed disease reporting system, software challenges, methodology changes and "an outage" with its system for periodically stalling timely, comprehensive and accurate data reporting.
A mix of pride and doubts as Modi launches India’s COVID-19 vaccine drive
India on Friday was preparing to launch one of the most ambitious and complex nationwide campaigns in its history: the rollout of coronavirus vaccines to 1.3 billion people, an undertaking that will stretch from the perilous reaches of the Himalayas to the dense jungles of the country’s southern tip.
The toughest part might be persuading doubters like Shankar Patil to roll up their sleeves.
Patil, a 27-year-old state police academy applicant, lives in Pune, the city central to India’s vaccine rollout, which is set to begin on Saturday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is staking his pride on India’s ability to manufacture enough inexpensive shots to inoculate his country as well as much of the developing world. India aims to do nothing less than “protect humanity,” Modi said at an online address to the Indian diaspora recently.
Stretched out on an exercise mat along a row of pink Mexican lilacs at the top of Parvati, a hillock popular with early-morning joggers, Patil has questions. He and two friends, also aspiring police officers joining him to exercise, are skeptical about the country’s vaccine approval process, which has been criticized by health experts for a lack of disclosure.
“We believe in the government, but nobody should play with our health,” said Patil. “If the vaccines are truly safe, they should make the data public.”
Little data has been published yet from the early trials of one of the two vaccines being rolled out, and the manufacturer has not yet completed the important final trial even as the vaccine is being distributed.
Read the full story.
China builds hospital in 5 days after surge in virus cases
China on Saturday finished building a 1,500-room hospital for COVID-19 patients to fight a surge in infections the government said are harder to contain and that it blamed on infected people or goods from abroad.
The hospital is one of six with a total of 6,500 rooms being built in Nangong, south of Beijing in Hebei province, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
China had largely contained the coronavirus that first was detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019 but has suffered a surge of cases since December.
A total of 645 people are being treated in Nangong and the Hebei provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, Xinhua said. A 3,000-room hospital is under construction in Shijiazhuang.
Virus clusters also have been found in Beijing and the provinces of Heilongjiang and Liaoning in the northeast and Sichuan in the southwest.
The latest infections spread unusually fast, the National Health Commission said.
Vaccines to stimulus checks: Here’s what’s in Biden plan
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. On Friday, he outlined a five-step approach to getting the vaccination to the American people, and to ensure that it is distributed equitably. “Equity is central to our COVID response,” he said.
Here’s a look at what’s in Biden’s plan:
CONTAINING THE VIRUS
— 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.
THE VACCINATION PLAN
— Working with states to open up vaccinations beyond health care workers, including to people 65 and older, as well as essential front-line workers.
— Establishing more vaccination sites, including working with FEMA to set up 100 federally supported centers by the end of his first month in office . He suggested using community centers, school gymnasiums and sports stadiums. He also called for expanding the pool of those who can deliver the vaccine.
— Using pharmacies around the country to administer the vaccine. The Trump administration already has entered into agreements with some large chains to do that.
New Yorkers fleeing the city during the pandemic squeeze surrounding housing markets
Angel Garcia, a single father approved for a mortgage loan of $300,000, had high hopes in early 2020 of finding a house he could afford in his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Within months, New Yorkers began fleeing the city and the surrounding area, snapping up houses. Home prices that already had been out of reach for many jumped higher. Garcia, who oversees security at Stamford’s government building, ended the year still living with his 3-year-old daughter in a Stamford rental.
“It’s so hard with all the competition out here and the prices, as they are now. They were already expensive,” said Garcia, who has a second job as a security guard.
An influx of people relocating to the state and in particular Fairfield County, on the New York state line, has been celebrated by many including Gov. Ned Lamont, who said in his State of the State address last week that it showed a desire for more spacious living arrangements and an appreciation of “Connecticut values.”
But it also has made it more difficult for many to find affordable housing in an area that rates among the country’s most unequal places in terms of income levels.
March for Life asks its supporters to stay home this year
Organizers of the March for Life, the anti-abortion movement’s preeminent annual event, are asking their supporters nationwide not to gather in Washington this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and political unrest.
Instead, a small group of invited anti-abortion leaders will march Jan. 29, and the event will be livestreamed, March for Life’s president, Jeanne Mancini, announced Friday.
“Since we are in the midst of a pandemic which may be peaking, and in view of the heightened pressures that law enforcement officers and others are currently facing in and around the Capitol, this year’s March for Life will look different,” she said. “The annual rally will take place virtually and we are asking all participants to stay home and to join the March virtually.”
Expo 2020, already postponed once, unveils key pavilion in Dubai as pandemic surges
Dubai on Saturday unveiled the signature pavilion for the upcoming Expo 2020, the world’s fair that is scheduled to open later this year even as the global pandemic that forced its postponement continues to rage.
The Terra Pavilion, which features a towering 130 meter-wide (426 feet) canopy blanketed with thousands of solar panels, is part of the sheikhdom’s push to rally enthusiasm for the high-stakes expo amid the pandemic that has pummeled its economy. The massive structure, devoted to environmental sustainability, rises from the fairgrounds on the desert outskirts of Dubai, where construction workers still scurry around national pavilions in various stages of completion.
Dubai’s Expo 2020 is expected to draw 25 million visitors and a flurry of business deals. The event represents a $7 billion bet by the city in the United Arab Emirates to boost international tourism and investment. The yearlong delay puts even more pressure on the event to spur Dubai’s service-heavy economy, which was sputtering before the pandemic thanks to a shaky real estate market.
It appears that the organizers are leaving nothing to chance. Saturday’s media tour of the gleaming pavilion was tightly controlled, with dozens of press officers instructing photographers to shoot only from specific angles that showed off the building’s best features and obscured nearby pavilions still covered with scaffolding and clouds of plaster dust.
The Terra Pavilion, which cost over $272 million, is designed to produce as much electricity as it uses, making it both energy and carbon neutral. It will supply and treat all of its own water, capturing rain in a vast underground cistern.
Hospitals in England struggle in the grip of the virus
The moment of reckoning British officials have warned about for months has arrived.
Hospitals across the country are stretched to the brink with COVID-19 patients, medical staff are at their breaking point, and the death toll is soaring.
Decisions about who dies and who is given a chance at survival through intensive care grow more challenging by the day. The amount of oxygen being given to severely ill patients has been reduced in a few hospitals to prevent a “catastrophic failure” of overstressed infrastructure. Some institutions are moving COVID-19 patients to hotels to free up beds. Ambulance crews frequently wait hours to offload patients. And medical workers on the front lines are reporting levels of emotional trauma that outstrip even those of combat veterans.
The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in England has risen sharply since Christmas and now dwarfs the spring peak by 70%, with almost 14,000 more patients in hospitals than on April 12.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned this past week that there was a “very substantial” risk that many hospitals will soon run out of beds in intensive care units, even as the nation continues to set daily records for fatalities. And as the strain on hospitals grows, death follows.
“Every region has more COVID patients in hospital than they did in the first wave,” said Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London.
2 inmates die, many more ill in COVID-19 outbreak at Oregon prison
Two inmates at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla have died in the past week after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections.
Four people have now died since the beginning of January in the latest surge in cases, the Oregon Department of Corrections said.
As of Wednesday state data shows that 101 inmates and 24 staff members at Two Rivers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, the East Oregonian reported.
The prison’s total number of active cases among inmates has also climbed to 258, according to state data as of Jan. 13.
That’s the most among prisons in Oregon, with the second highest coming from Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, which reportedly has 128 active cases among inmates.
Two Rivers has reported more COVID-19 cases among adults in custody than any other prison in Oregon since the pandemic began, with a total of 589, according to state data. Among staff, 107 have tested positive, the third most in the state.
The first Two Rivers inmate who died this week after testing positive was a man between 70 and 80 years old who died at a local hospital on Jan. 10, the Department of Corrections said.
The second inmate who died this week after testing positive was a man between 65 and 75. He died at a local hospital on Thursday, according to a new release from the agency.
Pandemic stokes worries about disturbances and fuels gun-ownership boom in California
The pandemic presents an unprecedented danger to human health – and not just because of covid-19. New research suggests the pandemic has stoked rising worries about violence and fueled gun ownership.
Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study relies on data from the 2020 California Safety and Well-Being Survey, which covers topics related to firearm ownership, practices and exposure to violence. The 2,870 California adults surveyed reported rising concern about violence during the pandemic. About 1 in 10 were concerned someone they know might harm themselves.
About 7% of respondents who reported they had experienced unfair treatment believe it occurred because of the pandemic.
A disproportionate number were Asian Americans, reflecting reports of widespread anti-Asian racism and xenophobia throughout the pandemic. The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate reports it received over 2,500 complaints of anti-Asian American discrimination between March and August, including verbal attacks and potential civil rights violations.
The study also showed new firearm and ammunition purchases during the pandemic in response to concerns about lawlessness, prisoner releases and even government collapse. The researchers estimate that about 110,000 Californians bought firearms directly in response to the pandemic, 47,000 for the first time.
Read the full story.
UN: Pandemic reduced migrants by 2 million by mid-2020
A new U.N. report estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of international migrants by 2 million by the middle of 2020 because of border closings and a halt to travel worldwide — an estimated 27% decrease in expected growth.
Clare Menozzi, principal author of the report by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division, told a news conference Friday that for the second half of 2020 “we have a sense that it will be probably comparable, if not more so.”
She said international migration had been projected to grow by 7 to 8 million between mid-2019 and mid-2020.
But the border closures and travel clampdown starting in March, as the pandemic circled the globe, meant zero growth for four months, and an estimated 2 million reduction in the expected number of international migrants, Menozzi said.
By August 2020, Population Division Director John Wilmoth noted, “there had been more than 80,000 travel restrictions imposed by 219 countries or territories across the world.”
Read the full story.
Restaurants, bars scramble for propane amid pandemic winter
With coronavirus restrictions forcing bars and restaurants to seat customers outside in the dead of winter, many are scrambling to nab erratic supplies of propane that fuel space heaters they’re relying on more than ever to keep people comfortable in the cold.
It’s one of many new headaches — but a crucial one — that go with setting up tables and tents on sidewalks, streets and patios to comply with public health restrictions.
“You’re in the middle of service and having staff run up and say, ‘We’re out of propane!’” said Melinda Maddox, manager of a whiskey tasting room in Colorado.
Propane long has been a lifeline for people who live in places too remote to get natural gas piped to their homes for heat, hot water and cooking. This winter, 5-gallon (18-liter) propane tanks have proven a new necessity for urban businesses, too, especially in places like the Rocky Mountains, where the sun often takes the edge off the chill and people still enjoy gathering on patios when the heaters are roaring.
The standard-size tanks, which contain pressurized liquid propane that turns to gas as it’s released, are usually readily available from gas stations, grocery stores or home improvement stores. But that’s not always the case lately as high demand leads to sometimes erratic supplies.
Read the full story.
A worrying coronavirus mutation is discovered in Washington state — but hasn’t spread
Three COVID-19 infections diagnosed in Washington in October were caused by virus with a mutation that might boost the respiratory bug’s ability to dodge immune defenses.
The mutation, called E484K, is also present in two of the worrisome new viral variants spreading around the globe — those that originated in South Africa and Brazil. But the virus detected in Washington did not have any of the other mutations that characterize those variants, said researchers at the UW Medicine Virology Lab.
No other infections with the mutation have been detected since October, though surveillance is limited in the state.
“Based on what we have right now, it hasn’t taken off,” said computational biologist Pavitra Roychoudhury, part of a team that sequenced the three genomes. “We definitely want to keep an eye on it.”
The mutation has been spotted sporadically in the U.S. since spring, said Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who has been tracking genetic changes in the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Those isolated sightings haven’t sparked major outbreaks. “It appears that just having the (E484K) mutation isn’t enough to make a huge difference to the virus,” he wrote in an email. However, in combination with the 10 or more other mutations in the South Africa and Brazil variants, it is spreading rapidly.
Read the full story.
Washington state House votes to extend Inslee’s COVID orders until end of state of emergency
The Washington State House of Representatives voted to extend Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 emergency orders, despite Republican objection to the length of the extension.
Similar to the Senate debate Tuesday, Republicans introduced amendments to shorten the length of time the emergency orders will stay in place, currently set to expire when the COVID state of emergency does. The amendments failed.
It will likely be the first of many debates this session regarding the governor’s emergency orders and COVID restrictions.
“I don’t believe the spirit of the law of the state that enables the proclamations of the state ever intended for these emergency powers to go on for a year,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen.
According to state law, governors’ emergency proclamations cannot be extended for longer than 30 days without approval from the Legislature. If the Legislature is not in session, House and Senate leadership can extend them. Through the past interim, leaders in all four caucuses have extended Inslee’s proclamations, but Republicans have long criticized Inslee for “overstepping” and implementing emergency orders that have shut down businesses and indoor dining without consulting the Legislature.
One proposed amendment would have changed the end date of the restrictions to 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 31. Republicans argued that because the Legislature is now in session, it is up to lawmakers to “be the voice of the people” and look at these proclamations on a periodic basis.
Read the full story.
Sidelining experts, Brazil bungled its immunization plans
Like many Brazilian public health experts, Dr. Regina Flauzino spent most of 2020 watching with horror as COVID-19 devastated Brazil. When the opportunity to join the government’s vaccination effort came, she was thrilled: She would be able to share her decades of on-the-ground experience.
But her excitement quickly faded. Flauzino, an epidemiologist who worked on Brazilian vaccine campaigns for 20 years, became frustrated with what she described as a rushed, chaotic process.
The government has yet to approve a single vaccine, and Health Ministry officials have ignored outside experts’ advice. Shortly after the government presented its vaccination plan, more than a quarter of the roughly 140 experts involved demanded their names be excised.
“We weren’t listened to,” Flauzino told The Associated Press. The plan’s creation “was postponed for too long and now it’s being done in a rush.”
Brazil has suffered more than 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, the second-highest total in the world after the United States, with infections and deaths surging again. Despite a half-century of successful vaccination programs, the federal government is trailing regional and global peers in both approving vaccines and cobbling together an immunization strategy.
Read the full story.
Business groups press Washington state Legislature for tax cuts, other pandemic relief
After surviving 10 months of shutdowns, heavy layoffs, steep losses and chronic uncertainty, many businesses in Washington say they won’t see the end of the pandemic without significant help from state lawmakers.
But one week into the 2021 legislative session, prospects for that relief are anything but clear.
The good news: There’s strong bipartisan support in the Democrat-controlled state House and Senate for quick action on measures such as emergency grants for small business and more than $2.6 billion in cuts for unemployment taxes and other business costs.
Such relief could “make or break” small businesses struggling under COVID-19 restrictions, said Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Hospitality Association, one of many trade groups with high hopes for the 2021 session.
But the Legislature’s first week also brought warning signs for business, including talk of new taxes and push by labor for extra unemployment benefits. And on Wednesday, Senate Democrats voted down a business-backed Republican amendment that would have sped up Gov. Jay Inslee’s timeline for fully reopening businesses, such as restaurants and gyms, that are still operating at just partial capacity.
“I didn’t think we would be starting off the session like this, with no hope for those” businesses, said Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg, who sponsored the failed amendment. Wednesday’s vote, he added, “was a very tough blow for them.”
Read the full story.
Prince William worried about strain on UK emergency workers
Prince William says he is concerned about the mental health of U.K. ambulance drivers, police officers and other first responders who are being exposed to extraordinary levels of trauma and death as coronavirus cases soar.
William, a former search and rescue helicopter pilot, told emergency workers on a video call that they must not be afraid to ask for help despite their inclination to help others first.
“I fear…you’re all so busy caring for everyone else that you won’t take enough time to care for yourselves, and we won’t see the impact for quite some time,’’ William, the second in line to the British throne, said on a tape released late Friday.
Britain’s health care system is staggering as a more contagious variant of the coronavirus coupled with cold, wet winter weather puts unprecedented strain on hospitals and emergency workers.
The London Ambulance Service says it is receiving about 8,000 emergency calls a day, compared with 5,500 on a typical busy day. But the strain is being felt across all emergency services. Hundreds of firefighters, for example, have volunteered to drive ambulances to ease pressure on beleaguered services.
Read the full story.
Even at health care facilities, employers and workers are at odds about coronavirus vaccines
Anxious about taking a new vaccine and scarred by a history of being mistreated, many front-line workers at hospitals and nursing homes are balking at getting inoculated against the coronavirus.
Anxious about their patients’ health and scarred by many thousands of deaths in the past year, hospitals and nursing homes are desperate to have their employees vaccinated.
Those opposing forces have spawned an unusual situation: In addition to educating their workers about the benefits of the coronavirus vaccines, a growing number of employers are dangling incentives like cash, extra time off and even Waffle House gift cards for those who get inoculated, while in at least a few cases saying they will fire those who refuse.
Officials at two large long-term care chains, Juniper Communities and Atria Senior Living, said they were requiring their workers, with limited exceptions, to take the vaccine if they wanted to keep their jobs.
“For us, this was not a tough decision,” said Lynne Katzmann, Juniper’s chief executive. “Our goal is to do everything possible to protect our residents and our team members and their families.”
Critics say it is unethical to strong-arm low-paid workers into taking the vaccines, especially when there hasn’t been enough time to gather long-term safety data.
Read the full story.
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