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 It is no longer being updated.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

As Washington state battles lagging coronavirus vaccine distribution, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday his plan to speed up the process by creating new vaccination sites, mobilizing thousands of workers and making everyone 65 and over immediately eligible.

Meanwhile, the director of the World Health Organization said Monday that the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” if wealthier nations don’t ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee is hosting a memorial at 2:10 p.m. today to remember and honor the lives lost to COVID-19.
Watch here:


Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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UN: Pandemic, surging food prices leave many in Asia hungry

United Nations agencies are warning that more than 350 million people in the Asia-Pacific region are going hungry as the coronavirus pandemic destroys jobs and pushes food prices higher.

The report issued Wednesday by four agencies says the pandemic is making it difficult for 1.9 billion people to afford healthy diets. It follows an earlier report that forecast that in a worst case scenario that 828 million people might suffer from acute hunger because of the crisis.

The latest estimate is that nearly 688 million people globally are undernourished, more than half of them in Asia. The largest share is in South Asian countries like Afghanistan, where four in 10 people are malnourished.

The report is mostly based on data up to 2019, before the pandemic struck. But it also estimates that an additional 140 million people were likely to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 due to the impact of virus outbreaks and lockdowns. By the end of last year, some 265 million were estimated to be facing acute food insecurity.

—Associated Press
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WIAA sets dates for traditional winter, spring seasons

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, at its Executive Board meeting Tuesday, set dates for holding the sports traditionally held during the winter and spring seasons during the pandemic.

The traditional spring sports can begin practice beginning March 15 and end on May 1. The season for traditional winter sports will run from April 26 to June 12.

The WIAA Executive Board, made up of 13 school administrators from across the state, voted earlier this month that the season for traditional fall sports will begin on Feb. 1.

“Based on the risk levels assigned to traditional winter activities compared to traditional spring activities, the Executive Board made the decision that those spring activities will have the opportunity to play much earlier than winter activities,” WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said. “The Board will continue to monitor the status of activities over the coming months to ensure that those traditional spring sports receive a chance to participate.”

Read the full story here.

—Nathan Joyce

A New Orleans Mardi Gras with a different sort of mask

New Orleans has again entered Mardi Gras season — the big finale, Fat Tuesday, is Feb. 16 — and many bar owners have yet to sell much of the alcohol they purchased a year ago, just before the pandemic halted the city’s famous nightlife as the high season for festivals and tourism was set to begin.

Polly Watts, who owns Avenue Pub, doesn’t expect to go through her overstock of vodka, whiskey and beer anytime soon, even though the bar is on St. Charles Avenue, a main route for most of the large Mardi Gras parades.

That is because this year’s official parades have been canceled. The balls, parties and other events that make up “the largest free party on earth” violate COVID-19 restrictions, which early this month were raised in New Orleans to levels not seen since the start of the pandemic, when the city struggled with one of the highest coronavirus caseloads anywhere.

Still, Mardi Gras, a holiday with Christian (and pagan) underpinnings, can’t be canceled. “People are going to find a way to celebrate,” said Sarah Babcock, director of public policy and emergency preparedness for the New Orleans Health Department.

And in the absence of traditional programming, the focal point is likely to be the bars that showcase the music and drinking cultures so central to the city’s economy, identity and allure.

—The New York Times

Oregon updates guidance for return to in-person learning

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Education on Tuesday issued updated guidance for the return of in-person learning, which includes a requirement that schools provide on-site COVID-19 testing.

The guidance is the most recent push for students to return to school. Earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown set a Feb. 15 goal for returning more students to the classroom, with a focus on elementary students.

Before winter break, less than 10% of Oregon’s estimated 580,000 students were receiving some form of in-person instruction, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education.

At the start of the year, Brown gave local school districts the power to decide when to return students to in-person learning.

Updated advisory metrics now allow for in-person classes for elementary students at higher levels of community case rates than previously recommended.

—Associated Press
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Could a smell test screen people for COVID?

In a perfect world, the entrance to every office, restaurant and school would offer a coronavirus test — one with absolute accuracy, and able to instantly determine who was virus-free and safe to admit and who, positively infected, should be turned away.

That reality does not exist. But as the nation struggles to regain a semblance of normal life amid the uncontrolled spread of the virus, some scientists think that a quick test consisting of little more than a stinky strip of paper might at least get us close.

The test does not look for the virus itself, nor can it diagnose disease. Rather, it screens for one of COVID-19’s trademark signs: the loss of the sense of smell. Since last spring, many researchers have come to recognize the symptom, which is also known as anosmia, as one of the best indicators of an ongoing coronavirus infection, capable of identifying even people who don’t otherwise feel sick.

A smell test cannot flag people who contract the coronavirus and never develop any symptoms at all. But in a study that has not yet been published in a scientific journal, a mathematical model showed that sniff-based tests, if administered sufficiently widely and frequently, might detect enough cases to substantially drive transmission down.

Daniel Larremore, a public health researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the study’s lead author, stressed that his team’s work was still purely theoretical. 

—The New York Times

Washington state’s website, PhaseFinder tool falter under crush of interest in COVID-19 vaccinations

School bus driver Pamela Riordan waits in a first-come, first- served line for coronavirus vaccines on Tuesday at Sea Mar Community Health Center in Federal Way, Washington state expanded access to vaccines and they are now given to anyone 65 or older. Vaccines are available for walk-in clients at Sea Mar Community Health Centers in Kent, Des Moines and Federal Way; info : seamar.org. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

On Monday, the state’s newly launched online tool to help people find out when they can get a COVID-19 vaccine had problems working under a crush of public interest. Then on Tuesday, the whole state Department of Health’s (DOH) website came crashing down.

The glitches signal the challenges in teaching an information-hungry public about an unprecedented vaccine rollout.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that the state would immediately expand who was eligible to get a vaccine. The news sparked waves of people going to the DOH website and its PhaseFinder tool, a questionnaire through which Washingtonians can find out which phase of the vaccination plan they are in.

Tuesday’s technical problems were fixed about an hour after the site crashed.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Washington state hospital leaders said they worry that part of Inslee’s plan to accelerate vaccinations will lead to canceled appointments and public outrage.

Read the full story here.

—Ryan Blethen and Nina Shapiro

Washington vaccination data added to state’s daily COVID-19 updates

The Snohomish County Vaccine Taskforce provides coronavirus vaccinations in the Edmonds College parking lot, Friday. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

While the state struggles to speed up its vaccination distribution efforts, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday began reporting the state’s most updated vaccination numbers on its daily, interactive COVID-19 data dashboard.

The dashboard, which was launched months ago, updates Washingtonians every day on the state’s latest number of coronavirus cases, deaths, hospitalizations, tests and other related information. On Tuesday evening, DOH added vaccination data to the list.

As of Monday at 11:59 p.m., 294,386 doses had been given, with a current seven-day average of 14,064 per day. The state’s goal is to reach 45,000 doses per day, according to a Monday afternoon announcement from Gov. Jay Inslee, who promised to speed up the process by creating new vaccination sites, mobilizing thousands of workers and making everyone 65 and over immediately eligible.

In King County, the state’s most populous, 109,120 doses have been administered. Pierce County, which has given the second-highest number of shots, has administered 33,845 doses, according to DOH.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama
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California sees hopeful signs as counties fight for vaccines

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Vaccine supply issues continued to plague California on Tuesday even as other indicators about the spread of the coronavirus showed what the top health official called “rays of hope” amid the deadliest days of the pandemic.

San Francisco’s public health department said it’s likely to run out of vaccine Thursday, in part because the state pulled back on administering a batch of Moderna shots after several health workers in San Diego had a bad reaction.

The county health department received 12,000 doses last week and had expected the same amount this week, but it received only 1,775.

“This unreliable source makes it very hard to plan,” public health director Dr. Grant Colfax said.

Even with the lagging supply, California in the last week greatly expanded both the number of people cleared to get a vaccine and its capacity for administering shots. A center that can handle as many as 12,000 shots a day opened Friday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles as other cities also opened stadiums and fairgrounds.

—Associated Press

Honolulu seeks to drop virus case against US surgeon general

HONOLULU — Honolulu prosecutors submitted a motion Tuesday to dismiss charges against U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams after he was cited for being in a closed park during Hawaii’s summertime spike in coronavirus cases.

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said in a statement that a motion was submitted to the court to dismiss charges against Adams and his aide, Dennis Anderson-Villaluz, for allegedly violating an emergency COVID-19 order in August.

A judge will review the motion and make a determination on whether the charges should be dropped. Adams was in Hawaii to help with surge testing amid an alarming surge in cases.

“After a careful review of the facts and law in this case, I have determined that further prosecution of this matter would not achieve that goal,” said Alm in the statement. “This office’s resources are better spent prosecuting other offenses, including serious violations of the Mayor’s emergency orders that pose a real threat to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Adams was allegedly discovered by an officer in Oahu’s Kualoa Regional Park taking photos at a time that all beach parks were closed to prevent large gatherings and curb the spread of coronavirus.

—Associated Press

Elderly begin to drop out of Novavax vaccine trial to get Pfizer and Moderna shots

Long Island physician Benjamin Luft began receiving urgent calls from his elderly clinical trial subjects almost as soon as New York followed numerous other states last week and announced it would begin vaccinating anyone 65 or older with one of two authorized coronavirus vaccines, those made by Pfizer and Moderna.

The subjects wanted to get out of the clinical trial Luft is helping oversee of an experimental vaccine made by another company, Novavax.

They wanted to be “unblinded” and find out if they had received a placebo in the Novavax study, and, if so, try to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have already been proved to be about 95% effective at preventing coronavirus infections.

“The number who have been calling me has been significant, and the numbers are increasing,” Luft, an infectious-disease expert at Stony Brook University Hospital, said in an interview. Fresh recruits also have begun to dry up, he said: “As we are doing our recruitment, all of a sudden the people over 65 became less interested.”

Two-thirds of the test subjects in the Novavax study are getting the experimental vaccine, and one-third get the placebo, in the type of double-blind clinical trial that is considered the gold standard for testing whether drugs and vaccines work. But without recruiting and keeping a robust cohort of elderly subjects in the trial, the value of the data generated by the trial will be diminished.

—The Washington Post
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State health officials confirm 1,372 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,373 new coronavirus cases and 37 new deaths on Tuesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 291,989 cases and 3,940 deaths, meaning that 1.3% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends. DOH also did not update its dashboard on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

In addition, 16,642 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 84 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 73,667 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,166 deaths.

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.

—Elise Takahama

Exhausted hospital chaplains bring solace to lonely, dying

Chaplain Kristin Michealsen holds the hand of a deceased COVID-19 patient while talking on the phone with the patient’s family member at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. “I have never seen this much of death and suffering,” said Michealsen, who has been a chaplain for 13 years. “I often tell families that I’m holding their loved one’s hand when they can’t and that I am with them when they are dying when they can’t be.” (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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.

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.

Read the full story.

—John Rogers, The Associated Press

Tech giants are teaming up to build digital vaccine records

Health agencies have relied on paper vaccination certificates to fight epidemics for more than a century.

But Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle are now teaming up with the health care nonprofit the Mayo Clinic and other major health care companies to develop technology that would bring such certifications to people’s phones. The companies envision that such “vaccine passports” could allow business, schools, concert venues and airlines to screen whether people have proof of vaccination.

The companies — which otherwise fiercely compete — together unveiled the Vaccination Credential Initiative.

The group’s goal is to help develop a secure copy of immunization records, which could be stored in the digital wallet feature on smartphones. The group is also plans to provide papers printed with QR codes that would allow people who don’t have smartphones to still access a secure record and gain entry to places that might require such a certificate.

Read the full story.

—Cat Zakrzewski, The Washington Post
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Hospital leaders worry about outrage at canceled vaccine appointments

Washington hospital leaders said they worry part of Gov. Jay Inslee's plan to accelerate vaccinations, announced Monday, will lead to canceled appointments that will outrage the public.

Inslee said vaccination providers will have to shift strategy as the state attempts to meet a goal of vaccinating 45,000 people a day, including people 65 and over who are now immediately eligible. Instead of waiting for vaccines to arrive before making appointments, providers should operate on the assumption that more supplies are coming and cancel if necessary, Inslee said.

"We have really serious concerns about this idea," said Washington State Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer at a Tuesday briefing with several other leaders. Nurses would be pulled away from other work for vaccinations that might not happen. And, Sauer said, I believe the public outrage at having a vaccine appointment scheduled and then canceled will be extreme and will really undermine the confidence in our vaccine delivery system."

Emotions are running high at vaccination sites, said June Altaras, a senior vice president of MultiCare Health System. Some people are so joyous they burst into tears, she said, adding she couldn't imagine canceling appointments.

As an alternative, Sauer suggested the state tell vaccination sites, which currently have no idea from one week to the next how many doses they will receive, at least a minimum number they could expect.

“Our goal is to have providers and patients ready to go whenever people need to get the vaccine,” wrote DOH spokesperson Danielle Koenig.  “That means there may be overscheduling or no-show challenges sometimes that lead to people not getting the vaccine on the day they’d hoped. We know this isn’t ideal and some people may be upset, but overall we know we will drastically increase the number of people vaccinated in this state. “

Many people are already frustrated by confusion over when and how to get vaccinated, all the more so after a new Phase Finder website launched by the state crashed Monday. The Seattle Times was inundated with calls and emails. Also problematic, said Mandee Olsen, chief quality officer of Kittitas Valley Health in Ellensburg, is another Department of Health (DOH) website that lists county-by-county vaccination sites.

"That site isn't accurate," said Olsen. Some sites listed in Kittitas County are not offering vaccinations, while others that are do not appear on the site.

“The list on the website is ever-changing as providers receive and administer vaccine,” said the DOH’s Koenig. It may not always be up to date, but she said that will become easier with the state now requiring providers to report data within 24 hours.

—Nina Shapiro

To-go coffee from the Blue Moon Tavern? PBS looks at how Seattle bar is surviving pandemic

In happier, pre-pandemic times, the Blue Moon Tavern hosted events such as Opera On Tap in 2019 as part of the historical bar’s 85th anniversary celebration. But the coronavirus pandemic has kept the bar shuttered. The Blue Moon Tavern is featured in PBS’ “American Portrait” series, which tells the story of how its owner is trying to figure out different ways to keep the bar going. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times, file)

The producers of the crowdsourced docuseries “PBS American Portrait” gave Emma Hellthaler, owner of Seattle’s Blue Moon Tavern, a fairly straightforward task when they asked her to share her experiences through video: Tell us about your life.

Turns out, that wasn’t so easy as the world swirled about Hellthaler and the Blue Moon Tavern during a year that was beyond chaotic, even by 2020 standards.

They did a good job of cleaning up a very messy story,” Hellthaler said. “I had a lot going on this year, so I told the producers straight up, I was like, ‘Man, like, I would not accept this if it were a screenplay. I feel like this plot is too messy. There’s too much going on.’

“Life was just too life-y.”

There are a lot of gripping moments in the four-part series that documents Americans in the moment in these turbulent times, to be sure. But there’s a palpable energy woven through Hellthaler’s segment, which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, on PBS and then will be available to stream.

They chronicle her life as she simultaneously tries to save her bar (she took ownership in — cue ominous music — October 2019), take care of her husband (he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall in early 2020) and raise two preteen children during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hellthaler’s installment ends at a pivotal moment as she installs an espresso machine in an attempt to reopen the Blue Moon. As you might expect, things don’t go as planned.

Read the story here.

—Chris Talbott, Special to The Seattle Times

Teen returns home after month in Cayman Islands prison for breaking COVID quarantine rules

After spending more than a month in a Cayman Islands prison for breaking COVID-19 quarantine rules, a metro Atlanta teenager is back home, according to Channel 2 Action News.

Skylar Mack, 18, of Loganville, arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Friday, where she reunited with her mother, the news station reported.

Mack and her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet, were charged after Mack broke the county’s strict 14-day quarantine rules to watch Ramgeet, 24, participate in a water sports competition. She removed a location tracking device from her wrist in order to attend the November event.

The duo was initially sentenced to pay a $2,600 fine and complete 40 hours of community service after their violations, but an appeals judge issued a stricter sentence. Mack and Ramgeet, who both pleaded guilty, were sentenced to four months in prison, which was later reduced.

Read the story here.

—Zachary Hansen, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Couple celebrates 73rd wedding anniversary with vaccinations

A northern Kentucky couple celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary by getting their first coronavirus vaccine shot.

Noel “Gene” Record, 93, and Virginia Record, 91, were among the first patients in Cincinnati to be vaccinated Tuesday under Ohio’s Phase 1B, WLWT-TV reported. Initial vaccinations went to health care workers.

The couple traveled from northern Kentucky to University of Cincinnati Health’s drive-thru vaccination site and they will return in three weeks to get the second vaccine dose.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

‘We know this is real’: New clinics aid virus ‘long-haulers’

COVID-19 came early for Catherine Busa, and it never really left.

Catherine Busa takes a walk around her neighborhood as part of her recovery from COVID-19 in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. The 54-year-old New York City school secretary didn’t have any underlying health problems when she caught the coronavirus in March and recovered at her Queens home. But some symptoms lingered. After eights months of suffering, she made her way to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center — to a clinic specifically for post-COVID-19 care. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The 54-year-old New York City school secretary didn’t have any underlying health problems when she caught the coronavirus in March, and she recovered at her Queens home.

But some symptoms lingered: fatigue she never experienced during years of rising at 5 a.m. for work; pain, especially in her hands and wrists; an altered sense of taste and smell that made food unappealing; and a welling depression. After eights months of suffering, she made her way to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center — to a clinic specifically for post-COVID-19 care.

“I felt myself in kind of a hole, and I couldn’t look on the bright side,” Busa said. She did not feel helped by visits to other doctors. But it was different at the clinic.

“They validated the way I felt,” she said. “That has helped me push through everything I’m fighting.”

The clinic is one of dozens of such facilities that have cropped up around the U.S. to address a puzzling aspect of COVID-19 — the effects that can stubbornly afflict some people weeks or months after the infection itself has subsided.

Read the story here.

—Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press

US virus death toll tops 400,000 in Trump’s final hours

Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg walks in October among thousands of white flags planted in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19 near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington. The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has eclipsed 400,000 in the waning hours in office for President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed 400,000 on Tuesday in the waning hours in office for President Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis has been judged by public health experts a singular failure.

The running total of lives lost, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is nearly equal to the number of Americans killed in World II. It is about the population of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tampa, Florida; or New Orleans.

And the virus isn’t finished with the U.S.: A widely cited model by the University of Washington projects the death toll will reach nearly 567,000 by May 1.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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What Washingtonians want Biden to do first

Ruth Jacobson has a list of things she wants Joe Biden to do once he’s sworn in as the nation’s 46th president. She wants him to reinstate and bolster environmental protections; restore the nation’s standing in the global community; and to implement kinder, more humane, immigration policies.

But a first step toward all those things, she said, is getting the coronavirus pandemic under control.

“I just suspect having a more rational approach to presenting and solving problems will help, will get us started on the road,” Jacobson said. “At least if everybody’s on the same page and people are not prevented from saying what is clearly true.”

As the nation prepares for a Biden presidency, Washington residents have a lot on their agendas for what they want to see him tackle first. Though that list is varied, one issue many have in common: fighting the spread of the coronavirus.

Read the story here.

—Maya Leshikar and David Gutman

Plunged into virus ‘dark winter,’ Biden must lead US out

 President-elect Joe Biden predicted he would take office amid a “dark winter,” and the outlook is only getting bleaker.

No matter his first acts in the White House, the raging coronavirus pandemic could take another 100,000 American lives in his first month as president after crossing the grim marker of 400,000 deaths this week. He inherits a country weary from 10 months of lockdowns and business closures, divided by attacks on public health professionals and tantalized by the promise of widespread vaccination that will take months to have much effect.

Yet at noon on Wednesday, the virus, and the nation’s response to it, will be Biden’s responsibility.

“We’re inheriting a huge mess here,” incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain bluntly told CNN Sunday. “The virus is going to get worse before it gets better,” he warned. “The virus is the virus. What we can do is act to control it.”

The effort to “control” the outbreak will likely be the defining test for the new administration: Biden has pledged to bring competence to a crisis that has made the U.S. exceptional for the wrong reasons — the most confirmed infections and deaths in the world.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

King County Council to consider vaccine legislation Tuesday


The King County Council could vote to approve legislation to broaden access to the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

The meeting, at 1 p.m., will be livestreamed on KCTV.

The proposal would require County Executive Dow Constantine to create a "detailed and robust plan to deliver the vaccines countywide, lower barriers to access, and have most King County residents vaccinated by June, with priority for older people and others at higher risk of death," according to a statement issued by the council.

The legislation is being introduced by King County Councilmembers Rod Dembowski, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Reagan Dunn and Pete Von Reichbauer.

Watch the council meeting here.

—Christine Clarridge
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A new COVID-19 challenge: Mutations rise along with cases

The race against the virus that causes COVID-19 has taken a new turn: Mutations are rapidly popping up, and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more likely it is that a variant that can elude current tests, treatments and vaccines could emerge.

The coronavirus is becoming more genetically diverse, and health officials say the high rate of new cases is the main reason. Each new infection gives the virus a chance to mutate as it makes copies of itself, threatening to undo the progress made so far to control the pandemic

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a new version first identified in the United Kingdom may become dominant in the U.S. by March. Although it doesn’t cause more severe illness, it will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths just because it spreads much more easily, said the CDC, warning of “a new phase of exponential growth.”

So far, vaccines seem to remain effective, but there are signs that some of the new mutations may undermine tests for the virus and reduce the effectiveness of antibody drugs as treatments.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Dutch govt to beef up lockdown amid fears about new variants

The Dutch government said Tuesday it needs to beef up lockdown measures “as soon as possible” to rein in the spread of the coronavirus amid fears about more transmissible variants.

A family watches as the father get a nose an throat swab as residents of Bergschenhoek, Netherlands, take part in a mass test of all of the municipality’s 62,000 inhabitants starting Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, following a cluster of COVID-19 cases at an elementary school, including about 30 cases of the British coronavirus variant. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said in a letter to parliament that the government will announce extra measures on Wednesday afternoon.

The Netherlands has been in a tough lockdown for a month and will remain that way at least until at least Feb. 9, but the slow decrease in the number of new infections and the threat posed by new variants have prompted the government to consider a tightening that is expected to include a curfew for the first time since the pandemic began.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

India’s homegrown vaccine developer warns some to avoid shot

Shimray Wungreichon, 43, looks at the nurse administering her the COVID-19 vaccine at the District Hospital in Ukhrul, in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. “I am very positive about it,” said Wungreichon, a nurse for 14 years who described getting vaccinated as a “normal routine” for her. (AP Photo/Yirmiyan Arthur)

India’s homegrown coronavirus vaccine developer Bharat Biotech on Tuesday warned people with weak immunity and other medical conditions including allergies, fever or a bleeding disorder to consult a doctor before getting the shot — and if possible avoid the vaccine.

The company said those receiving vaccinations should disclose their medical condition, medicines they are taking and any history of allergies; severe allergic reactions among vaccine recipients may include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face and throat, rapid heartbeat, body rashes, dizziness and weakness.

India on Jan. 4 approved the emergency use of two vaccines, one developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and the other by Bharat Biotech. The regulator took the step without publishing information about the Indian vaccine’s efficacy.

Tens of thousands of people have been given the shot in the past three days after India started inoculating health care workers last weekend in what is likely the world’s largest coronavirus vaccination campaign. India vaccinated 148,266 people on Monday, taking its total to 381,305, the health ministry said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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AP-NORC poll: Virus, economy swamp other priorities for US

Containing the coronavirus outbreak and repairing the economic damage it has inflicted are the top priorities for Americans as Joe Biden prepares to become the 46th president of the United States, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Overall, 53% of Americans name COVID-19 as one of the top five issues they want the government to tackle this year, and 68% mention in some way the economy, which is still reeling from the outbreak.

In an open-ended question, those priorities far outpace others, like foreign affairs, immigration, climate change or racial inequality. The findings suggest Biden’s political fate is riding on his administration’s response to the pandemic.

FILE — President-elect Joe Biden during a news conference in Wilmington, Del., Dec. 4, 2020. The president-elect is rolling out a large spending package aimed at helping battle the virus and alleviate the economic toll it has taken. (Kriston Jae Bethel/The New York Times)

The poll was taken in December.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Quarantine corner: Diversions to get you through the day

The story of how Seattle's historic Blue Moon Tavern is trying to survive the pandemic will air tonight on PBS’ "American Portrait." Things aren't quite going as planned.

Glow-in-the-dark bath time? Kids need something to look forward to in the dark months — like these eight fun activities to do in the dark.

Enjoy your fruits and veggies: Winter is a fruitful season for making apple butter, and butternut squash stars in this elegant phyllo galette with feta and olives.

—Kris Higginson

College Board is scrapping SAT’s optional essay and subject tests

Two major stress points in the grueling rituals of college admission testing are vanishing this year: the optional essay-writing section of the SAT and the supplementary exams in various fields known as SAT subject tests.

The College Board announced Tuesday it will discontinue those assessments. Citing the coronavirus crisis, officials said the pandemic has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The testing organization, based in New York, also revealed the launch of a process to revise the main SAT, aiming to make the admission test “more flexible” and “streamlined” and enable students to take the exam digitally instead of with pencil and paper.

The pandemic, which shuttered schools last March and continues to disrupt all levels of education, has created unprecedented turmoil for the SAT and the rival ACT admission test. Many college-bound students have struggled since last spring to find testing centers available at the right time and place.

With some exceptions, colleges and universities have ended or temporarily suspended testing requirements. 

Read the story here.

—Nick Anderson, The Washington Post
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Will standardized testing in Washington schools survive the pandemic?

When Diane DeBacker worked as state education commissioner in Kansas, educators talked often and openly about their schools’ standardized test scores.

Then, in 2018, she moved to Seattle, where everything was different. 

“We didn’t stand in front of a board and talk about how our schools did,” said DeBacker, who worked as Seattle Public Schools’ top academic officer until earlier this month. “I was like, huh, we don’t lead with assessments in Seattle. That’s kind of comforting.”

Now, with the nation’s education system rocked by a pandemic that led to the pause of a broad swath of standardized tests, some education leaders say it’s time to rethink testing. They are questioning what the tests measure, and whether they should continue to be used as a primary way to determine success and failures in public schools.

Last year, for the first time since the No Child Left Behind Act passed, federal law didn’t require states to administer standardized tests, which means there’s no way to conclusively know how students are doing. 

Because a major national test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), was suspended, this year’s state tests would provide the first quantitative answer — if they proceed. Some local and state leaders don’t want the state tests to resume this year, in part because they will be challenging to administer remotely. It’ll be up to the Biden administration to decide.

Read the story here.

—Joy Resmovits

Thai leader threatens punishment for false vaccine news

Passengers wearing face-masks to reduce spread of the coronavirus, ride a canal ferry in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Thailand planned to expand testing to thousands of factories in a province next to Bangkok as it reported over 300 new virus cases around the country on Wednesday and one new death, an official said. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned Tuesday that his government will prosecute anyone who shares false information about coronavirus vaccines in social or mass media.

The government already has the power to impose punishments under a state of emergency that was declared last March to deal with the health threat.

Prayuth’s warning was an apparent reaction to charges that his government has done too little to acquire adequate supplies of vaccines. The criticism took on a sharp political tinge after a popular politician aired such allegations in an internet broadcast Monday night.

“Do not blame me for threatening legal action,” Prayuth said. “I need to keep people’s confidence and trust in government.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Everyone 65 and older eligible is eligible for a vaccine now — but patience may be needed. Gov. Jay Inslee plans to speed the shots into Washingtonians' arms by creating new vaccination sites, mobilizing thousands of workers and making everyone 65 and over immediately eligible. But his goal of 45,000 vaccinations a day outstrips the supply from the feds, and we're already seeing glitches, including the crash of the new tool that's supposed to tell you when you can be vaccinated. Here's how the new plan should work, and how to find a vaccine near you.

Virus mutations are rapidly popping up, with another new one ripping through Northern California. The new variants make the vaccination sprint more urgent: The longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more likely it is that a variant that can elude current vaccines could emerge.

People in adult family homes are a vaccination priority in Washington state, but many of the 19,000 residents and 17,000 workers have no clear path to getting shots.

Twins Kimberly and Kelly Standard shared nearly everything for 35 years. One exception: their experience of COVID-19, which hit Kimberly far harder. That amazed scientists, who hope identical twins like the Standards will help them untangle the disease's genetic roots.

How do you establish COVID-19 boundaries for a first date? Dating columnist Marina tackles this, the Seattle Freeze and more.

—Kris Higginson
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How is the pandemic affecting you?

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