Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, January 28, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 European Medicines Agency is recommending that Pfizer’s coronavirus pill be authorized for use in the 27 countries that make up the European Union. The antiviral drug was cleared for use by U.S. health regulators in late December.
Meanwhile, the Washington state Department of Health announced free N95 masks will be available at multiple pharmacies and grocery stores as early as Thursday. About 400 million N95 masks will be given away across pharmacies and community centers in partnership with the federal government’s vaccination campaign.
A full list of partners in Washington and elsewhere can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in filing a lawsuit to block the U.S. Department of Defense from requiring National Guard members under state command to be vaccinated.
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.
Judge sides with Treasury in tribes’ coronavirus relief case
A federal judge has sided with the Treasury Department in a case that challenged the distribution of coronavirus relief aid to Native American governments.
Tribal governments had received $4.8 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act based on federal housing population data that some said was badly skewed.
Three tribes in Oklahoma, Florida and Kansas sued over the methodology that relied on population data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The tribes alleged they were shortchanged by millions because tribal enrollment figures were higher than those reflected in federal data.
The figure for the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, for example, was zero in federal data.
The week in fake news: These are trending but also far from true
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
COVID vaccines lower hospitalizations across the board, not just in the U.S.
Claim: Vaccines reduce hospitalizations only in the U.S. but not in other countries.
The facts: COVID-19 vaccines, with or without a booster dose, have been shown to reduce rates of hospitalization in several countries.
Social media users are sharing video clips of a COVID-19 discussion panel held on Monday by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican representing Wisconsin, leading to the spread of false information about vaccines. Dr. Peter McCullough, a Dallas cardiologist and vaccine critic who spoke at the conference, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting academic fraud and that COVID-19 vaccines are not effective at preventing hospitalization from COVID-19.
Omicron drives U.S. deaths higher than in fall’s delta wave
Omicron, the highly contagious coronavirus variant sweeping across the country, is driving the daily American death toll higher than during last fall’s delta wave, with deaths likely to keep rising for days or even weeks.
The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been climbing since mid-November, reaching 2,267 on Thursday and surpassing a September peak of 2,100 when delta was the dominant variant.
Now omicron is estimated to account for nearly all the virus circulating in the nation. And even though it causes less severe disease for most people, the fact that it is more transmissible means more people are falling ill and dying.
“Omicron will push us over a million deaths,” said Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine. “That will cause a lot of soul searching. There will be a lot of discussion about what we could have done differently, how many of the deaths were preventable.”
After huge pandemic losses, governments see rapid rebound
State and local governments lost at least $117 billion of expected revenue early in the pandemic, according to an Associated Press analysis, but many are now awash in record amounts of money, boosted partly by federal aid.
In response to the dramatic turnaround, governors, lawmakers and local officials have proposed a surge in spending as well as a new wave of tax cuts.
“The ultimate effect of the pandemic was a net positive,” said Stephen Parker, assistant city manager for the Los Angeles suburb of Upland, where sales tax revenues are soaring. “Isn’t that unbelievable? It’s just crazy to think of that.”
A federal watchdog for coronavirus aid warns Congress it is nearly out of money
A federal watchdog overseeing billions of dollars in coronavirus aid told lawmakers late Thursday that it is now facing a “terminal budget crisis,” as its fast-dwindling funds in the face of congressional inaction threaten to shutter the office as soon as this summer.
The warning arrived from the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR), an oversight body chartered by Congress in 2020 to oversee a portion of the country’s first major stimulus package. The leader of the office, Brian D. Miller, stressed that its coffers are at risk of running dry unless Democrats and Republicans fill them swiftly as part of an upcoming debate over government funding levels.
Under the earlier stimulus law, known as the Cares Act, Congress set aside $25 million for the commission.
Aides to the watchdog say they now have opened more than two dozen cases, as they keep guard over a total of $22.5 billion in outstanding loans and other stimulus assistance. Their efforts helped lead to an enforcement effort announced last week, after a woman in Oklahoma pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud. But the special inspector general said that its initial $25 million allocation still “is not enough money” to sustain its current level of operations, especially since it has a five-year mandate for oversight.
S. Korea plans to add small clinics as omicron fuels surge
South Korea plans to add hundreds of small neighborhood hospitals and clinics to treat the thousands more people expected to get COVID-19 during a developing omicron surge.
Health officials announced the plans Friday as South Korea’s daily cases reached a new high for a fourth straight day. The 16,096 new confirmed infections were double the number reported Monday. Experts say an omicron-driven surge could continue for five to eight weeks and push daily cases to over 100,000.
The country’s response to COVID-19 had mainly depended on big hospitals with advanced equipment and more beds. Officials are now trying to mobilize smaller hospitals and clinics to diagnose and monitor possibly tens of thousands of people with mild or moderate cases who would be treated at home in coming weeks.
State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 25,157 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 14,304 on Thursday. It also reported 119 more deaths over those days.
The update brings the state's totals to 1,294,498 cases and 10,699 deaths, meaning that 0.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
In addition, 53,963 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 333,092 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,292 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 12,294,498 doses and 65.7% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 22,680 vaccine shots per day.
The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.
Thailand adopts guidelines for declaring COVID-19 endemic
Thai health authorities approved new guidelines Friday outlining the parameters for declaring the coronavirus pandemic an endemic disease.
Official figures show that the country already meets the three criteria, but Ministry of Public Health spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati said it would still be between six months and a year before the government would be able to make the decision to start treating COVID-19 as an illness that is here to stay, like the flu or measles.
Among other things, he said data from all of Thailand’s provinces need to be checked, and authorities need to be sure that the figures remain at the current levels or improve before it can be declared endemic.
Chinese travel for Lunar New Year despite plea to stay put in pandemic
Chinese are traveling to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest family holiday, despite a government plea to stay where they are as Beijing tries to contain coronavirus outbreaks.
The holiday, which starts Wednesday, usually is the biggest annual movement of humanity as hundreds of millions of people who migrated for work visit their parents and sometimes spouses and children they left behind or travel abroad.
Some 260 million people have traveled in the 10 days since the holiday rush started Jan. 17, less than before the pandemic but up 46% over last year, official data shows. The government forecasts a total of 1.2 billion trips this during the holiday season, up 36% from a year ago.
For many COVID-19 vaccine opponents, no jab means no job
For eight years, Mike Miller has patrolled the grounds of the Snake River Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison in Eastern Oregon. His $74,000 salary has paid for his home across the state line in Boise, Idaho, and allowed his family to home-school their three kids.
But next week, he’ll face his bosses at a “pre-dismissal hearing” for violating the terms of his job. Miller expects to be fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The vaccines probably do work for a lot of people,” said Miller, 38, a self-described born-again Christian who rejects the shots because cell lines derived from fetuses aborted decades ago were used in their development. “Our religious convictions tell us that abortion is wrong. We cannot use these vaccines.”
He added: “It would be easier to just get a shot. But I cannot stand for them forcing me.”
Even as the nation approaches the third year of the pandemic — with the omicron variant breaking infection records and a growing death toll of more than 878,000 — a defiant 24% of the population has received no vaccine shots at all.
What to do if your child tests positive for COVID but the rest of the family doesn’t
As the omicron variant spread in Chicago, area hospitals saw more children testing positive for COVID-19 and hospitalized. Some were there because of illness and some for other reasons but happened to also test positive.
For many children who caught COVID-19 and remained asymptomatic or with mild illness, this was the first time their families faced a scenario where the child tested positive — but the rest of the family remained negative.
These families enter a gray area of guidance because isolation and quarantine tips tend to be geared toward adults who can be left alone if needed. It’s a different story when an infant or toddler needs to be isolated from other family members, especially if the family members are at higher risk.
What to do if you lose your U.S. vaccination card
More than a year ago, when COVID-19 vaccines became available in the United States and jabs started going into arms, it became a point of pride for some people to show off a bandaged shoulder and a white COVID-19 Vaccination Record card.
But as the pandemic rolled on, and the bandages came off, some people lost track of those awkward 4.25-by-3.5-inch cards.
What if it is lost?
Relax. Many health departments can provide you with your vaccination information. The records themselves aren’t lost.
But if you’re hoping to use that card to prove your vaccination status at work or, say, to travel to a country with a more digital-first approach to record keeping, losing it may make it harder for you.
To find out what to do, read the story here.
Anti-mask anger forces Colorado children’s museum to close
A Colorado children’s museum is the latest casualty of harassment by people angry over mask mandates designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, for decades a popular downtown attraction primarily devoted to those age 8 and under, temporarily closed on Wednesday because of escalating harassment of staff by adult visitors angry over a mandate requiring anyone age 2 and older to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
“We know the stress of the last two years has taken a toll on everyone in our community, but regrettably some guests who object to the Museum’s mask policy have been inappropriately directing their anger toward our staff,” the museum said in a statement announcing the closure, which began Wednesday.
Its doors will stay closed until Feb. 4 to give staff members a break and to evaluate how the museum can respond to aggression by visitors in the future, the statement said.
How many times can I reuse my N95 mask?
How many times can I reuse my N95 mask?
It depends, but you should be able to use N95s and KN95s a few times.
The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says health care workers can wear an N95 mask up to five times. But experts say how often the average person can safely wear one will vary depending on how it’s used.
Using the same mask to run to the grocery store, for example, is very different than wearing it all day at work.
The amount of time a mask is worn is more important than how frequently it’s worn, says Richard Flagan, who studies masks and aerosols at the California Institute of Technology.
Pope denounces fake news about COVID, vaccines, urges truth
Pope Francis denounced fake news about COVID-19 and vaccines Friday, blasting the “distortion of reality based on fear” but also urging that people who believe such lies are helped to understand true scientific facts.
Francis said access to accurate information, based on scientific data, is a human right that must be especially guaranteed for those who are less equipped to separate out the morass of misinformation and commentary masquerading as fact that is available online.At the same time, Francis asked for a merciful, missionary approach to those who fall prey to such distortions so they are helped to understand the truth.
“Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility,” he said. “Reality is always more complex than we think and we must respect the doubts, the concerns and the questions that people raise, seeking to accompany them without ever dismissing them.”
Cases plateauing in parts of India but omicron still surges
Indian health officials said there were signs of COVID-19 infections plateauing in some parts of the country but cautioned that cases were still surging in other states, linked to a new, stealthier version of the omicron variant.
Most of the cases were concentrated in 10 states, where over 90% of patients had mild symptoms and were being treated at home, Lav Agarwal, a federal health official, said at a media briefing.
The country detected over 250,000 new infections on Friday, but Dr. Vineeta Bal, who studies immune systems at the Indian Institute of Science Education Research in Pune city, warned that these were definitely an undercount.
Russia nears 100,000 daily infections as omicron rages
Russian authorities on Friday reported over 98,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases, but according to the Kremlin, the actual number is likely to be much higher as the highly contagious omicron variant continues to rage through the vast country.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force on Friday registered 98,040 new infections tallied over the past 24 hours — another all-time high for the country that in recent weeks has faced its biggest surge of contagions in the pandemic.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday that “it is obvious that this number is higher and possibly much higher,” because “many people don’t get tested” and have no symptoms.
The Kremlin spokesman also admitted that a lot of people in the presidential administration have gotten infected with the virus, but said there was no point in imposing “excessive restrictions” and cited “the world’s experience.”
Coronavirus infections in Russia started to soar nearly three weeks ago, with daily tallies of new cases spiking from about 15,000 on Jan. 10 to almost 100,000 on Friday.
Germany says omicron surge ‘under control’ despite records
Germany’s coronavirus surge fueled by the omicron variant remains “under control” despite a string of new infection records, the country’s health minister said Friday.
Cases as a result of the highly contagious variant in the European Union’s most populous nation shot up at a later stage than in several other countries in the region. Officials attribute that to restrictions such as curbs on private gatherings, nightclub closures and requirements for restaurant and bar patrons to have received a booster shot or to present a negative test.
Yet infections continue to rise steeply in the country of 83 million. On Thursday, new cases reported in the previous 24 hours topped 200,000 for the first time. On Friday, the infection rate reached another record of 1,073 new cases per 100,000 residents in a week.
Those numbers didn’t deter Health Minister Karl Lauterbach from declaring that authorities “have the omicron wave in Germany well under control at the moment.”
COVID hits one of the last uninfected places on the planet
When the coronavirus began spreading around the world, the remote Pacific archipelago of Kiribati closed its borders, ensuring the disease didn’t reach its shores for nearly two full years.
Kiribati finally began reopening this month, allowing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to charter a plane to bring home 54 of the island nation’s citizens. Many of those aboard were missionaries who had left Kiribati before the border closure to spread the faith abroad for what is commonly known as the Mormon church.
Officials tested each returning passenger three times in nearby Fiji, required that they be vaccinated, and put them in quarantine with additional testing when they arrived home.
It wasn’t enough.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Free N95 masks have arrived in Washington. Some pharmacies are already giving them away, and more will soon be available through these pharmacy chains and grocery stores. That's in addition to the free COVID-19 tests that you can get through the federal government and, when the supply is replenished, the state.
Home COVID tests have plenty of value, but beware: With omicron in the mix, they can also offer false confidence, possibly leading people to unwittingly spread the virus. Doctors say it's important to know how to react to test results — even if they're negative.
What to do if your child tests positive but the rest of the family doesn't: This depends on age, of course. Pediatric specialists offer practical advice on parenting a sick child while minimizing risks for everyone else.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is up against more than a virus, with security agents bunking down in his guest room and an "upending" culture of lies leaving him chronically exhausted. So why doesn't he tag out now, at age 81? “That’s not my character. I don’t do that,” he says in this look inside Fauci's life and what it says about our times.
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