Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, January 29, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 number of U.S. deaths driven by the highly contagious omicron variant are reportedly higher than the deaths reported during the delta wave last fall. The seven-day rolling average for daily COVID-19 deaths has been increasing since mid-November and reached 2,267 Thursday, surpassing the 2,100 September peak driven by delta.

The U.S. has the largest COVID-19 death toll of any nation with over 878,000 COVID-19 deaths reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a federal watchdog overseeing billions in coronavirus aid told lawmakers that congressional inaction means it is facing a “terminal budget crisis” with funds dwindling rapidly and at risk of running dry.

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.

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Lynnwood bar catches trouble over 'catch the virus' stunt

In the past week, a pirate-themed bar in Lynnwood has lost staff, bands and customers — over a show with advertised discounted prices for people sick with COVID-19.

The Vessel Taphouse posted on Facebook on Jan. 21 that people should “Come see the show, maybe catch the virus or just stay home and whine,” The (Everett) Herald reported.

The post also said people could enter the bar for a discounted rate with proof of an “Omicron positive test.” Owner Steve Hartley said four employees quit and three bands refused to play another show that weekend. Hartley told the newspaper the post was “an ill-advised attempt at humor,” and the responsible employee has been fired.

Read the full story here.

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Omnicron not always so mild

Regina Perez, 57, had never been hospitalized for her lifelong asthma condition until she came down with COVID-19 this month.

She started having difficulty breathing, even after taking her usual medications. “It kind of took over, almost,” she said. She wound up at St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for most of a week at a time when nearly all the COVID-19 patients sampled had contracted the omicron variant.

The episode frightened her. While doctors were able to get her asthma and breathing under control, “I’ll probably be scared for the rest of my life,” she said. Perez, who was fully vaccinated and is now recovering at home, said she had spent the past two years doing everything she could to avoid infection, including working from home and rarely going out. She has not yet gotten a booster shot.

Throughout the pandemic, people like Perez have been at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because they have underlying medical conditions, like asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease. More than half of American adults have at least one underlying chronic condition, and for many of them, the omicron wave hasn’t been as mild as it has for the larger, healthier populations around the world.

Read the full story here.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney isolating after positive COVID-19 test

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday and “will be isolating and working remotely for the recommended period of time,” according to a news release from his office.

The Utah Republican is fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and is not showing any symptoms, the statement said. His wife, Ann, tested negative for the virus.

The senator’s office provided no additional details.

Romney, who was the GOP nominee for president in 2012 and the former governor of Massachusetts, is among a group of other congressional lawmakers that have contracted the virus recently, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

As COVID shots for kids stall, appeals are aimed at wary parents

For weeks, the school principal had been imploring Kemika Cosey: Would she please allow her children, ages 7 and 11, to get COVID shots?

Cosey remained firm. A hard no.

But “Mr. Kip” — Brigham Kiplinger, principal of Garrison Elementary School in Washington, D.C. — swatted away the “no.”

Since the federal government authorized the coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5-11 nearly three months ago, Kiplinger has been calling the school’s parents, texting, nagging and cajoling daily. Acting as a vaccine advocate — a job usually handled by medical professionals and public health officials — has become central to his role as an educator. “The vaccine is the most important thing happening this year to keep kids in school,” Kiplinger said.

Largely through Kiplinger’s skill as a parent vax whisperer, Garrison Elementary has turned into a public health anomaly: Of the 250 Garrison Wildcats in kindergarten through fifth grade, 80% have had at least one shot, he said.

But as the omicron variant has stormed through U.S. classrooms, sending students home and, in some cases, to the hospital, the rate of vaccination overall for America’s 28 million children ages 5-11 remains even lower than health experts had feared. According to a new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation based on federal data, only 18.8% are fully vaccinated and 28.1% have received one dose.

Read the full story here.

—Jan Hoffman, New York Times
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Thousands protest COVID mandates and restrictions in Ottawa

Thousands of protesters gathered in Canada’s capital on Saturday to protest vaccine mandates, masks and lockdowns.

The sounds of honking horns echoed around Ottawa’s downtown core. A convoy of trucks and cars parked in around Parliament Hill with some parking on the grounds of the National War Memorial before police asked them to move.

“Parking on this sacred ground that includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sign of complete disrespect,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted.

Some compared COVID restrictions to fascism and made use of Nazi symbols on upside down Canadian flags. One truck carried a Confederate flag while many carried expletive-laden signs targeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

Alaska’s COVID-19 case rate is again the highest in the nation as hospitalizations tick up

Alaska reported rising virus hospitalization numbers Friday and the highest case rate in the nation as the omicron variant continues to snarl staffing at health care facilities that have had to adapt to the ups and downs of the pandemic.

The state on Friday reported 5,897 cases of COVID-19 over the past two days and a seven-day case rate of 2,360.4 cases per 100,000 — higher than any other U.S. state, according to a CDC tracker.

Meanwhile, cases and hospitalizations in many other states and countries continued to fall. Alaska’s omicron surge began a few weeks after other states, which is likely why cases here have not yet begun to slow, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said Thursday during a call with reporters.

“Alaska, Oklahoma and Washington are currently leading the pack,” she said, while “many of the East Coast states such as Maryland and Washington, D.C., have really started to come down significantly after these large peaks. So just different places at different times with this virus.”

Read the full story here.

—Annie Berman, Anchorage Daily News

Russia’s daily COVID-19 count soars above 110,000

The daily count of new coronavirus infections in Russia spiked above 110,000 on Saturday as the highly contagious omicron variant races through the vast country.

The state coronavirus task force reported 113,122 new infections over the past 24 hours — an all-time high and a sevenfold increase from early in the month, when daily case counts were about 15,000. The task force said 668 people died of COVID-19 in the past day, bring Russia’s total fatality count for the pandemic to 330,111, by far the deadliest toll in Europe.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that “it is obvious that this number is higher and possibly much higher,” because “many people don’t get tested” or have no symptoms.

The Kremlin spokesman also admitted that a lot of people in the presidential administration have gotten infected with the virus. “The vast majority continue to work from home after having isolated themselves,” Peskov said. “This explosive contagiousness of the omicron, it demonstrates itself in full.”

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press
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‘Less hugs, more Zooms’ — Asian Americans celebrate second pandemic Lunar New Year

Anna Nguyen walked toward Bao Quang temple, ready to chant and pray to the majestic golden Buddha.

With the Lunar New Year nearing, she would make an offering of $100 and ask for blessings for family members who were ill.

Then her phone rang.

It was her cousin, questioning the wisdom of going inside the temple in Santa Ana, with the highly contagious Omicron variant circulating.

Nguyen, who is Vietnamese American, decided to turn around and forgo her customary new year ritual.

“She’s a little bossy, but she made me rethink my decision,” Nguyen, who is in her 50s and works in e-commerce, said of the cousin. “It’s like we do less hugs, more Zooms, because no one is hosting big banquets costing big money.”

Across Southern California, Asian Americans are celebrating a second pandemic Lunar New Year, with the Year of the Tiger set to begin Tuesday — and that means adjusting long-held traditions.

Read the full story here.

—Anh Do, Los Angeles Times

New omicron version arrives in Idaho, where positivity rates are sky-high

As the omicron surge continues, a new sub-lineage of the variant has been identified in Idaho, and data continue to show the improved health outcomes for vaccinated people who get breakthrough cases as opposed to unvaccinated people who get sick.

Cases have continued to balloon this week, with 19,983 new cases recorded since Jan. 21. The state is also facing a backlog of around 41,500 positive lab results that have not yet been processed and put in the data dashboard, thus skewing the reported data.

Though the backlog remains large, it decreased slightly on Friday for the first time in weeks. On Thursday, the number of outstanding positive tests was around 42,070.

Hospitalizations have risen, too, along with the numbers of health care staff calling out sick. The dual crises prompted the state Department of Health and Welfare to reactivate crisis standards of care for much of Southern Idaho on Monday.

The state’s test positivity rate has also swelled to unprecedented levels. The week of Jan. 16, the proportion of COVID-19 tests that were positive in Idaho rose to 38.8%, the highest percentage seen during the pandemic by a factor of two.

Read the full story here.

—Ian Max Stevenson, Idaho Statesman

Pope Francis calls access to accurate information on coronavirus vaccines ‘a human right’

Pope Francis denounced on Friday the “distortion of reality based on fear” that has ripped across the world during the coronavirus pandemic, but also called for compassion, urging journalists to help those misled by coronavirus-related misinformation and fake news to better understand the scientific facts.

“We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: A distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news,” the leader of the world’s Catholics said.

Meeting with members of the International Catholic Media Consortium – a fact-checking network that aims to combat misinformation about covid-19 – the Pope said being fully informed by scientific data was a human right.

“To be properly informed, to be helped to understand situations based on scientific data and not fake news, is a human right. Correct information must be ensured above all to those who are less equipped, to the weakest and to those who are most vulnerable.”

Read the full story here.

—Adela Suliman and Maria Luisa Paul, Washington Post
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Virginia’s public colleges and universities can’t require coronavirus vaccine, new GOP attorney general finds

Virginia’s public colleges and universities don’t have the authority to require students to get a coronavirus vaccine to enroll or attend in-person classes, the state’s new attorney general found in his first opinion since taking office this month.

The opinion by Jason Miyares, a Republican, is the most recent move by the state’s new GOP leadership to challenge coronavirus mandates.

It is unclear if the step will have any practical effect on students currently on campuses. More than 90% of students at most of the state’s four-year public schools are already vaccinated and, in some cases, boosted.

But because the legal analysis comes from the state’s top prosecutor, schools could be under pressure to conform, potentially affecting future students on more than a dozen campuses. A recent order from new Gov. Glenn Youngkin, R, has already caused some universities to roll back vaccine requirements for employees.

Read the full story here.

—Justin Jouvenal, Lauren Lumpkin and Hannah Natanson, Washington Post

Third COVID wave looms in Indonesia as omicron spreads

Indonesia is bracing for a third wave of COVID-19 infections as the highly transmissible omicron variant drives a surge in new cases, health authorities and experts said Saturday.

The country reported 11,588 new confirmed infections and 17 deaths on Saturday in the last 24-hour period. It was the highest daily caseload since August when Indonesia was struggling to contain a delta-driven wave.

Indonesia had recovered from last year’s spike that was among the worst in the region, and daily infections had fallen to about 200 by December. But cases are rising again just weeks after the country reported its first local omicron transmission.

“The upsurge will be extremely fast. … We will see a sharp rise in the near future,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a news conference Friday, adding that the current wave would likely peak at the end of February or in early March.

Read the full story here.

—Niniek Karmini, Associated Press

Oregon may be near omicron hospitalization peak; 7,222 new cases, 19 deaths

The latest COVID-19 forecast from Oregon Health & Science University predicts that the number of people hospitalized with the virus in Oregon will reach a peak over the next week and begin to drop by next weekend.

Peter Graven, OHSU’s lead data scientist, now forecasts that hospitalizations will peak at 1,220 on Feb. 6, a 20% decline from his forecast even last week. The number would just eclipse the previous record of 1,178 on Sept. 1 during this summer’s delta surge. That level of hospitalizations is putting a major strain on the state’s health care system, but is a far cry from Graven’s forecast in mid-December, when he said peak hospitalizations could reach 3,000.

He attributed his reduction to a per capita rate of severe illness that is less than on the East Coast, and the fact that Oregonians were willing to step up with relatively high rates of masking, refraining from large outdoor gatherings and reducing activities such as visiting bars, restaurants and shops.

“Compared with other states, Oregonians have been much more willing to take the measures necessary to ensure timely medical care for everyone who needs a hospital bed,” Graven said in a news release.

Read the full story here.

—Ted Sickinger, oregonlive.com
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Joni Mitchell plans to follow Neil Young off Spotify

Joni Mitchell said Friday that she would remove her music from Spotify, joining Neil Young in his protest against the streaming service over its role in giving a platform to COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

Mitchell, an esteemed singer-songwriter of songs like “Big Yellow Taxi,” and whose landmark album “Blue” just had its 50th anniversary, posted a brief statement on her website Friday saying that she would remove her music from the streaming service. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives,” she wrote. “I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

Her statement adds fuel to a small but growing revolt over Spotify, with few major artists speaking out but fans commenting widely on social media. The debate has also brought into relief questions about how much power artists wield to control distribution of their work, and the perennially thorny issue of free speech online.

Read the full story here.

—Ben Sisario, New York Times

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern isolates after virus exposure

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said late Saturday she is self-isolating after coming into close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus.

The exposure came on a flight from the town of Kerikeri to the largest city of Auckland. New Zealand’s Governor-General Cindy Kiro was also on the Jan. 22 flight and has also gone into isolation.

Both women had been in the Northland region to do some filming ahead of New Zealand’s national day, Waitangi Day, on Feb. 6.

“The Prime Minister is asymptomatic and is feeling well,” her office said in a statement. “In line with Ministry of Health advice she will be tested immediately tomorrow and will isolate until Tuesday.”

Health officials listed a dozen flights as exposure events late Saturday, a possible indication that one or more of the flight crew was infected.

Read the full story here.

—Nick Perry, Associated Press

Nurses accused of making $1.5 million off fake vaccination cards

Two nurses on Long Island are accused of forging COVID-19 vaccination cards and pocketing more than $1.5 million from the scheme, prosecutors and police said.

Julie DeVuono, the owner of Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare in Amityville, and her employee, Marissa Urraro, are both charged with felony forgery, and DeVuono also is charged with offering a false instrument for filing. Both were arraigned Friday.

Urraro’s lawyer, Michael Alber, urged people not to rush to judgment about the allegations and said his client is a well-respected nurse.

“We look forward to highlighting the legal impediments and defects of the investigation,” he said Saturday. “It’s our hope that an accusation definitely doesn’t overshadow the good work Miss Urraro’s done for children and adults in the medical field.”

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press