Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, January 25, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
The World Health Organization’s director-general warned on Monday that ideal conditions for more coronavirus variants to emerge remain and that it is “dangerous” to assume the world is nearing the end of the pandemic.
However, the director-general said the acute phase of the pandemic could end in 2022 if key targets are met, including the goal to vaccinate 70% of the population in every country by mid-2022.
Meanwhile, Idaho public health officials activated crisis standards of care in 18 southern counties due to significant shortages in staffing and blood supply.
At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration took two monoclonal antibody therapies off the list of COVID-19 treatments, stating they should not be used anywhere in the U.S. due to their ineffectiveness against the omicron variant.
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 the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.
S. Korea tests new virus steps as infections reach new high
South Korea on Wednesday began enforcing new COVID-19 response measures, including reduced quarantine periods and expanded rapid testing, as its new cases jumped nearly 50% in a day.
The 13,012 new cases were 4,400 more than the previous single-day high of 8,571 set on Tuesday. It underscores the speed of transmissions driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, which became the country’s dominant strain just last week.
South Korean officials say their early analysis suggests omicron spreads more than twice as fast as the delta variant, which spiked the country’s hospitalizations and fatalities during a devastating winter surge, but is also significantly less likely to cause serious illness or death.
South Korea also has a high vaccination rate. More than 85% of South Korea’s more than 51 million people have been fully vaccinated and more than 50% of the population have received booster shots.
Inside an American ICU, a depleted staff struggles to keep going
Angie Wheeler had bonded with her patient, and now his body was failing. The nurse tried not to let him see the concern in her eyes.
It was only the day before that he had told her about his job, his wife and children. Now, the intensive care unit’s head doctor told Wheeler, he needed to be placed on a ventilator. She donned her protective gear and headed in.
Nearly two years into the coronavirus pandemic, Wheeler, 65, knew what to say:
“You’re going to go to sleep, OK? You won’t remember any of this.”
King County omicron cases decline as ‘second chapter’ of surge gains steam in Eastern Washington
Cases of the coronavirus are on the decline in the Seattle metro area, but hospital leaders warned Tuesday that the omicron variant is gaining steam in Eastern Washington and could ravage already stressed health care facilities.
For the first time during the pandemic, the Washington Medical Coordination Center activated its “guaranteed-acceptance rotation protocol,” which goes into effect when all hospitals are “full to the point of needing to refuse patients” and need help finding beds, Taya Briley, vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said in a news briefing. It was active for several days last week.
Already some Washington hospitals have received patient transfer requests from health facilities in Idaho.
In King County, data shows the rise in omicron infections peaked on Jan. 10 with 7,563 daily cases. Since then, the county has charted a significant decline in infections, dropping at least 43% in the past week.
RFK Jr. remarks on Anne Frank, vaccines draw condemnation
Anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. made “deeply offensive” comments when he suggested things are worse for people today than they were for Anne Frank, the teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp after hiding with her family in a secret annex in an Amsterdam house for two years, several Jewish advocacy and Holocaust remembrance groups said Monday.
“Making reckless comparisons to the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews, for a political agenda is outrageous and deeply offensive. Those who carelessly invoke Anne Frank, the star badge, and the Nuremberg Trials exploit history and the consequences of hate,” the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said Monday in a statement posted to Twitter.
A spokesman said the museum made the statement in response to Kennedy’s speech and other recent incidents of people invoking the Holocaust for political purposes. The museum also pointed out that Anne Frank was one of the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust.
CDC travel warning flags 5 Caribbean destinations as ‘very high’ risk for COVID-19
Federal health authorities on Monday warned against travel to 15 countries and territories, including Costa Rica, the United Arab Emirates and five Caribbean destinations, because of “very high” risk levels of coronavirus.
By issuing Level 4 advisories, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that “even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants” in those locales. The new additions expand a list of more than 100 destinations to receive the agency’s highest travel warning.
In the Caribbean, the CDC urged people to “avoid travel” to Jamaica, Saint Barthelemy, the Dominican Republic and two island territories of France: Guadeloupe and Saint Martin. The agency also issued its highest coronavirus warning for Peru, Colombia, Fiji, Kuwait, Mongolia, Niger, Romania and Tunisia.
EU to ease travel rules for vaccinated residents
The European Union recommended Tuesday that people traveling among its 27 member states who have been vaccinated in the past nine months or recovered from the coronavirus should not face additional restrictions like testing or quarantine — the latest indication that the bloc is accepting COVID-19 as a part of everyday life rather than a severely disruptive force.
The change came a day after the World Health Organization said that the spread of the omicron variant could change the pandemic from overwhelming to manageable.
“Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, the agency’s director for Europe, although he cautioned it was too early to drop the restrictions entirely, as large areas of the global population remain unvaccinated.
Under the new recommendation, EU residents with a COVID digital certificate recording their full course of vaccination, a certificate of recent recovery from the disease or a negative test result not older than 72 hours will be able to move freely across the bloc.
NY schools told to keep masks after judge overturns mandate
New York state education officials told school administrators to continue enforcing the state’s mask mandate for students and teachers Tuesday despite a judge’s ruling overturning it, causing confusion as some districts rushed to make masks optional.
The Education Department said the state had filed notice that it would appeal Monday’s ruling by a judge on Long Island, a step that could keep the rule in place at least until its planned expiration Feb. 1.
“While these legal steps occur, it is NYSED’s position that schools should continue to follow the mask rule,” said department spokesperson Emily DeSantis.
But in some districts, administrators immediately made masking optional for students and staff.
Israeli expert panel advises 4th vaccine dose for adults
An expert panel on Tuesday advised the Israeli government to begin offering a fourth vaccine dose to everyone over the age of 18, citing research showing it helps prevent COVID-19 infection and severe illness.
The advisory committee said research shows a fourth dose provides three to five times the level of protection against serious disease and double the protection against infection compared to three doses. The Health Ministry’s director must approve the recommendation.
Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk as it struggles to contain a wave of infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. It began offering third doses to the general population last summer.
Cyprus court upholds vaccination certificate requirements
A Cypriot District court rejected a petition by 64 people to strike down as unconstitutional government regulations requiring COVID-19 vaccination certificates to enter indoor and outdoor venues, the Attorney-General’s office said on Tuesday.
In a statement, the court accepted the Attorney-General’s argument that a relevant Health Ministry decree aims to protect the island nation’s entire population, which is the “state’s highest duty.”
The court added that it is “not reasonable or possible” to put the lives of the whole population at risk because of a small group of citizens that doesn’t wish to abide by the decree.
The judge who rendered the decision said the petition doesn’t exclusively concern the protection of the petitioners’ rights but also directly affects the rights of all citizens to prevent delays in tracing COVID-19 cases and close contacts that would result in the “uncontrolled spread” of the virus.
“In the event the petition is granted, the danger lurks that the disease could go unchecked, resulting in adverse consequences on public health,” the judge said.
The judge said prevailing conditions mandate the measures which are recommended by international organizations as well as the group of health experts that advises the government.
Ahead of Olympics, abrupt lockdowns loom over Beijing life
Beijing residents are coping with abrupt local lockdowns and sweeping COVID-19 testing requirements as the Chinese capital seeks to prevent a coronavirus outbreak ahead of the Winter Olympics that opens in less than two weeks.
The lockdowns are part of China’s “zero tolerance” measures to fight the pandemic that have been ratcheted-up ahead of the Games. Those now include requiring tests for anyone who purchases medications to treat cold, cough, fever and other maladies.
University student Cheryl Zhang said that the health code app that all Chinese have installed on their smart phones began notifying her to get tested after she bought medication four days previously.
“I was seriously panicking,” said Zhang, who was taking a stroll across the street from the Olympic Village. “But when I got to the hospital and saw the medical workers striving to keep things in order, I didn’t feel angry any more. The problem was sorted out very quickly.”
Such purchases are tracked via a smart phone app that requires customers to swipe their information when they buy health supplies or simply enter pharmacies. China strictly controls sales of medications and a doctor’s prescription is often required for ordinary cold medications or even vitamins.
London police investigating Downing Street lockdown parties
London police said Tuesday they were investigating Downing Street lockdown parties in 2020 to determine if U.K. government officials violated coronavirus restrictions, putting further pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The Metropolitan Police Service has launched an inquiry into “a number of events” at Downing Street because they met the force’s criteria for investigating the “most serious and flagrant” breaches of COVID-19 rules, Commissioner Cressida Dick told the London Assembly, the capital’s local government council.
Johnson is facing calls to resign amid revelations that he and his staff attended a series of parties during the spring and winter of 2020 when most social gatherings were banned throughout England, forcing average citizens to miss weddings, funerals and birthdays as friends and relatives died alone in hospitals. The gatherings are already being investigated by a senior civil servant Sue Gray whose report, expected this week, will be crucial in determining whether Johnson can remain in power.
They had COVID-19 once. Then, they got it again.
For the past two Christmases, Ana Siqueira has received the same unwanted gift: COVID-19. And so has her husband.
The one-two punch they experienced underscores the coronavirus’s staying power and ability to crack through the body’s defenses.
The first time Siqueira got the virus, one of her sons was isolating with COVID at home, and Siqueira hadn’t been vaccinated.
But the second time, Siqueira, 57, a children’s book author and Spanish teacher from Palm Harbor, Fla., had checked all the boxes. She wore a mask in public, practiced social distancing and was vaccinated and boosted, but thinks she caught COVID anyway during a family trip to see her daughter in Seattle. Most of the family got swept up with infections, she said.
Although statistically rare, virus reinfections have been rising recently, leading some states to track them separately. Infectious-disease experts say getting COVID more than once will lose its novelty for Americans. Time and the virus are both working against people’s defenses, they said.
People are having COVID parties to spread the virus. That’s ‘Russian roulette,’ doctors warn
Thinking about intentionally exposing yourself to the coronavirus?
Thinking that you’ll probably get away with a mild case and become immune to COVID-19?
You need to think again. Even if you’re fully vaccinated.
If you get COVID on purpose, there’s no guarantee you’ll only get a little sick, though the contagious omicron variant surging now is less likely to put you in the hospital than the previous delta variant.
“The majority of people that get omicron that are vaccinated really do have minor symptoms,” said Dr. Marc Larsen, an emergency physician at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City. “It’s still playing Russian roulette though. If you get a really severe case, you can’t take it back.”
And yet, the idea that omicron isn’t as deadly as other variants, or doesn’t cause severe illness in children, seems to be motivating recent social media chatter about so-called “COVID parties” across the country. They’re like the “chickenpox parties” of old where parents exposed unvaccinated children to other sick children so they wouldn’t get it as adults when consequences are more severe.
That’s a no-no, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
University of Washington to return to in-person classes
The University of Washington will return to in-person classes on Jan. 31, after moving online for the first three weeks of winter quarter while coronavirus cases were spiking due to the omicron variant.
UW President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark A. Richards announced the shift back to in-person education in a letter to students sent Monday.
As omicron cases surged late last year, UW had initially announced that the first week of classes in January would be held online, to allow for more buffer time between students’ holiday travel and the beginning of classes.
That deadline was pushed to the end of January, as case numbers continued to rise.
But as the omicron-fueled spike shows signs of declining — positive cases in King County have fallen by 38% in the last week — Cauce and Richards announced the return to classrooms and lecture halls.
Investigative journalist David Heath on ‘Longshot’ and how Seattle played a role in COVID vaccine development
“Longshot: The Inside Story of the Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine” by investigative journalist David Heath exposes the political underside of how the race was won. Heath explains the complex chemistry involved in creating vaccines in understandable terms. He also describes the incredible challenges a handful of scientists faced in convincing other scientists and investors that making a COVID vaccine was possible.
Pfizer opens study of COVID shots updated to match omicron
Pfizer has begun a study comparing its original COVID-19 vaccine with doses specially tweaked to match the hugely contagious omicron variant.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced the study on Tuesday.
COVID-19 vaccine makers have been updating their shots to better match omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed.
While omicron is more likely than previous variants to cause infection even in people who’ve been vaccinated, it’s not yet clear that a change to the vaccine recipe is needed.
The original vaccines still offer good protection against severe illness and death. Studies in the U.S. and elsewhere have made clear that adding a booster dose strengthens that protection and improves the chances of avoiding a milder infection.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
There’s a new version of omicron, but so far, it doesn't appear to be more dangerous. Scientists are keeping a close eye on the version known as BA. 2, which has made its way to the United States.
One couple has received the same unwanted gift for the past two Christmases: COVID-19. Reinfections are rising as time and new variants work against people's defenses, and Washington is among the states that track how often they happen.
People are having "COVID parties" to spread the virus on purpose. That’s like playing Russian roulette, doctors warn, pointing to what's happening in the emergency department at a Missouri hospital.
Ever tried exercising hard in an N95 mask? It often seems like a perfect mask for exercise doesn’t exist, and guidance keeps changing along with the virus. Here are several factors to consider as you choose between a mask that’s safer vs. one that’s more comfortable.
Seattle played a pivotal role in the race for a vaccine, according to a new book by former Seattle Times investigative reporter David Heath. He’s talking about what went on behind the scenes during the revolutionary push to create the shots.
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