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
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Exhausted hospital chaplains bring solace to lonely, dying

LOS ANGELES — Inside hospital rooms across America, where the sick are alone without family to comfort them, the grim task of offering solace falls to overworked and emotionally drained hospital chaplains who are dealing with more death than they’ve ever seen.

Last week nearly a dozen died on a single day at the 377-bed Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, a gleaming, modern medical facility that is tucked into the northwest corner of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Three more passed — within a span of 45 minutes — the next day.

As he has each day for the past 11 months, Chaplain Kevin Deegan sits with the sick and dying, clad in a facemask, face shield, gloves and full body cover. He prays with them, holds their hands, gently brushes their foreheads and reassures them there is nothing to fear. Grieving families, unable to enter the hospital because of the deadly virus, watch through the iPad he’s carried into the room with him.

Deegan, who ministered to people undergoing hospice and palliative care before joining Holy Cross two years ago, is no stranger to death. But still, he says, he and his fellow chaplains had seen nothing like this before COVID-19 struck last year and began to kill people by the hundreds of thousands. Close to 400,000 people have died in the U.S. alone.

Deegan and about a dozen other chaplains cover shifts that extend to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

—Associated Press
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Military nurses, tests coming to help hard-hit Arizona city

PHOENIX — Exhausted nurses in rural Yuma, Arizona, regularly send COVID-19 patients on a long helicopter ride to Phoenix when they don’t have enough staff. The so-called winter lettuce capital of the U.S. also has lagged on coronavirus testing in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods and just ran out of vaccines.

But some support is coming from military nurses and a new wave of free tests for farmworkers and the elderly in Yuma County — the hardest-hit county in one of the hardest-hit states.

Almost everyone in Yuma County, near the borders of Mexico and California, seems to know somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19, with around 33,000 cases reported since last spring — a rate of about 14,000 per 100,000 people. Maricopa County, the largest in Arizona and home to Phoenix, has a rate of about 9,000 cases per 100,000 people.

Yuma County’s soaring numbers come as Arizona’s COVID-19 diagnosis rate ranked the worst in the U.S. over the past week, at one in every 120 people.

—Associated Press

Why finding workers is getting harder for U.S. homebuilders

As industries go, residential construction in America has largely weathered the pandemic thanks to steady demand and low interest rates. Worksites nationwide are humming with good, paying jobs at a time when 1 in 8 workers are receiving unemployment checks.

So why on earth are some construction firms complaining of a labor shortage?

U.S. construction is sprawling, employing roughly 5% of the nation’s workforce (7.3 million employees) at some 680,000 firms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The industry is essentially its own economy, building hundreds of billions of dollars worth of structures each month. It’s true that many parts of the sector are hurting because of the pandemic. But in others, there’s actually too much work to go around.

A survey by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) found that builders’ top concern is labor, with 85% expecting future cost and availability problems, up from 13% in 2011. It’s a conundrum that predates the pandemic, but one that’s certainly been exacerbated by it.

While unemployment peaked at almost 15% in 2020, empty construction jobs nevertheless hovered between 223,000 and 332,000 — about the same number of open slots back when unemployment was only 4.1%. So what gives?

—Bloomberg

WHO chief lambasts vaccine profits, demands elderly go first

GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief on Monday lambasted drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequalities, saying it’s “not right” that younger, healthier adults in wealthy countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people or health care workers in poorer countries and charging that most vaccine makers have targeted locations where “profits are highest.”

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off the WHO’s week-long executive board meeting — virtually from its headquarters in Geneva — by lamenting that one poor country received a mere 25 vaccine doses while over 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.

“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country — not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25. I need to be blunt: The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” Tedros said. He did not specify the country, but a WHO spokeswoman identified it as Guinea.

“It’s right that all governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first,” he said. “But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries. There will be enough vaccine for everyone.”

—Associated Press
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NY governor explores buying virus vaccine directly from maker

NEW YORK — Frustrated by the flow of coronavirus vaccine from the federal government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday floated the idea of buying shots for New Yorkers directly from one of the vaccine makers, Pfizer.

The idea seemed far from a sure bet, with the pharmaceutical giant saying it would need federal approval to sell to state governments. If that were to happen, the cost and amount have yet to be be discussed.

Regardless, Cuomo said he felt compelled to broach the idea as his state, like many others, faces tough vaccine math. At the current pace of federal vaccine shipments to New York, it could take six months or more to get shots to the 7 million residents already eligible under federal guidelines, let alone the roughly 12 million other New Yorkers.

“My job as governor of New York is to pursue every avenue, and that’s what I’m doing,” the Democratic governor said at a virtual news conference.

Pfizer Inc. said in a statement that it appreciated Cuomo’s praise and was open to working with the federal Health and Human Services Department on getting the shots as quickly as possible to as many Americans as it could.

“However, before we can sell directly to state governments, HHS would need to approve that proposal,” the company said.

—Associated Press

California becomes first state to top 3 million virus cases

LOS ANGELES — California on Monday became the first state to record more than 3 million known coronavirus infections.

The grim milestone, as tallied by Johns Hopkins University, wasn’t entirely unexpected in a state with 40 million residents but its speed stunning. The state only reached 2 million reported cases on Dec. 24.

The first coronavirus case in California was confirmed last Jan. 25. It took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on Nov. 11 and 44 days to top 2 million.

California’s caseload is also far ahead of other large states. Texas had more than 2 million and Florida topped 1.5 million.

The state has recorded more than 33,600 deaths related to COVID-19.

—Associated Press

After months of trauma, vaccinated health-care workers welcome a surprising emotion: hope

One month after a New York nurse received the first U.S. vaccination, the hope inspired by the vaccines’ swift development and approval has given way in many quarters nationally to the distressing reality of a slow and sometimes calamitous rollout.

But for some health-care workers who have been vaccinated after toiling for nearly a year under exhausting, dangerous and sometimes terrifying conditions, the dominant feeling, they say, is profound and enduring relief, even amid a surge of COVID-19 cases.

In interviews, health-care workers described a surprising new sense of levity and energy as they go about work that, in many places, continues to be overwhelming. Some spoke of an elation and a confidence that they can now offer better care. Many said the vaccine had renewed their optimism after months during which depression and burnout in their field soared and the virus killed an estimated 3,000 people in their ranks.

—The Washington Post
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Trump administration bailed out prominent anti-vaccine groups with more than $800,000 in loans during pandemic

WASHINGTON – Five prominent anti-vaccine organizations that have been known to spread misleading information about the coronavirus received more than $850,000 in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, raising questions about why the government is giving money to groups actively opposing its agenda and seeking to undermine public health during a critical period.

The groups that received the loans are The National Vaccine Information Center, Mercola Com Health Resources LLC, Informed Consent Action Network, Children’s Health Defense Co., and the Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a U.K.-based advocacy group that fights misinformation, which conducted the research using public documents.

The group relied on data released in early December by the Small Business Administration in response to a lawsuit from The Washington Post and other news organizations.

Several of the Facebook pages of these organizations have by penalized by the social network, including being prohibited from buying advertising, for pushing misinformation about covid-19.

—The Washington Post

Inslee sets goal of 45,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a day in Washington state and makes everyone 65 and older eligible now

Acknowledging lagging COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a public-private partnership Monday he said would speed up the process by creating new vaccination sites, mobilizing thousands of workers and making everyone 65 and over immediately eligible.

“This is designed to bring to bear all of our resources in the state of Washington to get the job done,” Inslee said during a Monday news conference. “… This is a massive effort.”

The state is ready to begin the next phase of vaccination, known as 1B, and it will be more flexible by including those 65 and older in the first tier. Previously, that tier was to include people 70 and older, as well as those 50 and older in multigenerational households. But the federal government has called for states to lower the eligibility age to 65 right away, and some have already done so. About 80% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths are among those 65 and older, Inslee noted.

Washington’s vaccination rollout, as around the country, has been slow and confusing, with a big gap between the the number of vaccines distributed to vaccination sites and the number reported administered.

Read the full story here.

—Nina Shapiro

4 Trident Seafoods employees test positive for coronavirus

Seattle-based Trident Seafoods reports that four workers at the company’s Akutan, Alaska, seafood plant have tested positive for coronavirus, including one who had difficulty breathing and had to be evacuated by air to a hospital in Anchorage.

The Akutan plant in the Aleutian Islands is a processing hub for Bering Sea harvests of pollock, crab and cod, with a workforce of 700 employees that will swell in the weeks ahead to 1,400 people.

The four employees who tested positive were all roommates. They had all undergone a full 14-day quarantine and tested negative for the virus before flying to their jobs in Akutan, where the plant is operated as a closed campus with no contact allowed with other island residents, according to Joe Bundrant, Trident’s chief executive officer.

Read more.

—Hal Bernton
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Twins with COVID help further research into disease's genetic roots

Nearly a year after two twins from Rochester, Michigan, became sick with COVID-19, the sisters are bedeviled by the bizarrely divergent paths their illnesses took.

“I want to know,” Kelly Standard said of her sister Kimberly, “why did she have COVID worse than me?”

Since the new coronavirus first shuddered into view, questions like the one posed by Standard have spurred scientific projects around the globe. Among the 94 million infections documented since the start of the outbreak, no two have truly been alike, even for people who share a genetic code.

Identical twins offer researchers a ready-made experiment to untangle the contributions of nature and nurture in driving disease.

Read more.

—The New York Times

Gov. Jay Inslee holds press conference on vaccine distribution

Acknowledging lagging COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a public-private partnership Monday he said would speed up the process by creating new vaccination sites, mobilizing thousands of workers and making everyone 65 and over immediately eligible.

The state is ready to begin the next phase of vaccination, known as 1B, and it will be more flexible by including those 65 and older in the first tier. Previously, that tier was to include people 70 and older, as well as those 50 and older in multigenerational households. But the federal government has called for states to lower the eligibility age to 65 right away, and some have already done so. About 80% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths are among those 65 and older, Inslee noted.

Watch the news conference below:

Read more here.

Another coronavirus variant linked to growing share of California cases

California health officials say that several large COVID-19 outbreaks in the state and a fast-growing share of cases are linked to a coronavirus variant that scientists know little about, raising the possibility that it could be driving new infections.

Experts stress they need to look more closely at the circumstances of those outbreaks, as well as at the variant itself, before declaring the strain is more transmissible or more dangerous than the virus already broadly circulating.

The variant – known as L452R – was first detected in Denmark in March and has since been confirmed in more than a dozen states, including California, in May. The discovery did not garner much attention at the time because all viruses change constantly as they replicate. But public health authorities deem some variants to be “of concern” if evidence suggests they might be more contagious or potentially deadlier.

Read more.

—The Washington Post
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California urges stop to 300K vaccines after some fall ill

California’s state epidemiologist is urging a halt to more than 300,000 coronavirus vaccinations using a Moderna vaccine version because some people received medical treatment for possible severe allergic reactions.

Dr. Erica S. Pan on Sunday recommended providers stop using lot 41L20A of the Moderna vaccine pending completion of an investigation by state officials, Moderna, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the federal Food and Drug Administration.

“Out of an extreme abundance of caution and also recognizing the extremely limited supply of vaccine, we are recommending that providers use other available vaccine inventory,” Pan said in a statement.

Fewer than 10 people, who all received the vaccine at the same community site, needed medical attention over a 24-hour period, Pan said

Read more.

—The Associated Press

Coronavirus deaths rising in 30 US states amid winter surge

Coronavirus deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of American states as a winter surge pushes the overall toll higher amid warnings that a new, highly contagious variant is taking hold.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths is rising in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and on Monday the U.S. was approaching 398,000 deaths overall, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University — by far the highest recorded death toll of any country in the world.

The U.S. government has already curbed travel from some of the places where the new variants are spreading — such as Britain and Brazil — and recently it announced that it would require proof of a negative COVID-19 test for anyone flying into the country.

But the new variant, which while not causing more severe illness is about 50% more contagious, is already spreading in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection has warned that it will probably become the dominant version in the country by March. 

Read more.

—David Crary (Associated Press)

COVID-19 contact tracers in Spokane offer help to deal with mental stress when they call

Workers making COVID-19 contact tracing calls for the Spokane Regional Health District have been trained to watch out for mental health stress caused by the contacts, to listen for certain cues indicating heightened anxiety and to connect people to professional help.

Brooke Briggance, who led the mental health training for Spokane contact tracers, said that training contact tracers is important because isolation due to the pandemic has likely exacerbated stress and anxiety for so many people.

“If I’ve already been battling anxiety or depression, social isolation will make it worse,” she said.

The Spokane district contracted with the Public Health Institute to do contact tracing, which is calling the close contacts of a person who tested positive for the virus to alert them to exposure.

Eden Lopez, who leads the Public Health Institute's contact tracing in Spokane, said his team members were reporting difficult situations.

“We’re asking people to quarantine and to isolate, and their first question is ‘What about my job? What will I tell my employer?'” Lopez said.

Public Health Institute workers can give out information to help with medical care and food, as well as make sure the health district’s care coordination team follows up with that person later.

Read more.

—Arielle Dreher The Spokesman-Review
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EU insists virus shots will remain voluntary

The European Union sought Monday to ease concerns that citizens might be obliged to get shots against the coronavirus before they’re allowed to travel, as debate swirls over the use of vaccination certificates to help reopen tourism across the 27-nation bloc.

The European Commission has been weighing a Greek proposal to issue vaccination certificates to help get travelers to their vacation destinations more quickly and avoid another disastrous summer for Europe’s tourism sector.

Greece plans to issue digital vaccination certificates to each person inoculated against COVID-19. EU heads of state and government are due to discuss the proposal at a video-summit on Thursday.

European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic insisted that “vaccination is voluntary.” He noted that some people cannot be inoculated for health reasons while others might simply object.

Read more.

—The Associated Press

Adult family homes still don't have a clear path to get vaccines

Weeks after facilities like nursing homes have started vaccinating residents and staff against the coronavirus, most of Washington's adult family homes still don’t have a clear path to accessing the shots. About 19,000 people live in the state’s 3,386 adult family homes, which provide 24-hour care for up to six non-related people in a residential setting.

The state’s advocacy group that represents adult family homes, along with providers and residents and their loved ones, is asking state health officials to provide more resources toward ensuring the residents and staff are vaccinated.

“We strongly believe that to connect the remaining homes with a vaccine program, the state must take a proactive approach of reaching out to these homes immediately,” said John Ficker, the executive director of the Adult Family Home Council, in an email.

Read more.

—Paige Cornwell

With panda ears, data analysis and obnoxious optimism: How a Highline classroom is moving students forward in this pandemic

In Highline Public Schools, teachers are using a learning strategy known as “acceleration” to mitigate the havoc that Zoom School during the pandemic could wreak on students’ learning.

This is a strategy many school districts use to leapfrog gifted students ahead. Highline, a diverse district where 71% of students are living in poverty, is trying to speed up students across the board as they deal with COVID-19-related "learning loss." 

They’re finding it can work.

Read more.

—Joy Resmovits
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

A new way to tell when it's your turn for a vaccine: Washington state has launched its coronavirus PhaseFinder, a tool that allows you to find out when you can get your shots. Not your turn yet? See the state's vaccination priorities here.

Two new vaccines may be approved within weeks, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who also says President-elect Joe Biden’s vaccination goal is doable.

The world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” if wealthier nations don’t ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines, the head of the World Health Organization warned today.

—Kris Higginson

A new way to tell when it's your turn for a vaccine in Washington state

Washington state today launched its coronavirus Phase Finder, an online tool that allows you to check Your COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility by filling in a questionnaire.

The Phase Finder site states that while everyone will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine over the coming months, "due to limited vaccine supply, we need to provide the vaccine in phases."

"We are starting with people who are most at risk such as healthcare workers, elders, vulnerable individuals, and high-risk critical workers. Our goal is for this process to be as fair and transparent as possible."

This story explains the phases of Washington state's virus lockdown.

Not your turn yet? See the state's vaccination priorities here.

—Ryan Blethen