Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Sunday, Jan. 3 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 It is no longer being updated.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 United States has surpassed a grim tally of 350,000 COVID-19 deaths and 20.4 million cases of the virus.

In Southern California, funeral homes say they must turn away grieving families as they run out of space for the bodies piling up. The head of the state funeral directors association says mortuaries are being inundated.

Throughout Sunday, on this page, we’ll be posting Seattle Times journalists’ updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Virus surges as 15 poultry plants boost production

The Trump administration allowed 15 poultry plants to increase slaughter speeds during the pandemic, an action that boosts production and makes it more difficult for workers to maintain space between one another. It also appears to have hastened the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Now the outgoing administration is rushing to finalize a rule that would make the faster speeds permanent and expand them to dozens of other poultry plants — a move at odds with views held by President-elect Joe Biden.

Since 2018, the Trump administration has issued — or reissued — temporary waivers that grant permission to 54 poultry plants to increase line speeds. These plants are allowed to speed up lines from 140 to 175 birds per minute, a 25% increase.

They are also 10 times more likely to have coronavirus cases than poultry plants without the line-speed waivers, according a Washington Post analysis of data collected by the nonprofit Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN).

Workers say the higher speeds make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for them to socially distance during their eight-hour shifts as they struggle to work faster. Most of these plants are also large, employing thousands of workers who work in tight quarters, creating conditions that can fuel the spread of the virus.

Meat plants have been among the most virulent hot spots during the pandemic. More than 51,000 workers in beef, hog and poultry plants have become ill from the coronavirus, with at least 347 dying after becoming infected, according to FERN data.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post
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Sea-Tac’s holiday peak still far below last year’s levels; home sales are a different story

Airline passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport surged at year-end, though that still left travelers at just a third of last year’s comparable period.

Another indicator of the region’s economy, pending home sales, continued to run ahead of last year’s pace. Job listings in December dipped from their November levels, while new business starts in Washington sate and nationwide remain below their late-summer peaks.

You can view that data here.

—Rami Grunbaum

Congress opens new session as virus, Biden’s win dominate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi administers the oath to members of the 117th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi administers the oath to members of the 117th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP)

Congress convened Sunday for the start of a new session, swearing in lawmakers during a tumultuous period as the coronavirus surges and a growing number of Republicans work to overturn Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi was reelected as House speaker by her party, which retains the majority in the House but with the slimmest margin in 20 years.

Opening the Senate could be among Mitch McConnell’s final acts as majority leader. Tuesday’s runoff elections for two Senate seats in Georgia will determine which party holds the chamber.

The House and Senate were required to convene Sunday, by law, and imposed strict COVID-19 protocols. Elbow bumps replaced handshakes as senators took the oath of office. Fewer family members than usual joined lawmakers at the Capitol. A special enclosed seating section was designed for lawmakers in COVID-19 quarantine, but testing negative for the virus.

But by day’s end, House lawmakers were hugging and congratulating one another after taking the oath of office in the crowded chamber, an alarming scene during the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Amazon surpasses Boeing as Washington state’s biggest employer amid pandemic

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

Move over, Boeing. Washington state is now Amazonia.

Last year, Amazon — which in the 26 years since its founding in CEO Jeff Bezos’ Clyde Hill garage has emerged as a major player in retail, logistics and cloud computing — surpassed Boeing as the state’s largest private employer, usurping a title the airplane manufacturer had likely held since the post-World War II era, said aerospace historian Cory Graff.

The milestone speaks to the new economic realities wrought by the pandemic, experts say, but also to the increasingly tenuous nature of much blue-collar work, employers’ changing relationship with labor and the rise of a class of highly paid technology workers whose preferences are remaking the Seattle area.

Amazon thrived during the pandemic, due both to booming online shopping and increasing reliance on its cloud-computing services, which power many of the technologies behind remote work and life under lockdown. In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Amazon charted record-high sales and profits; its share price rose 72% last year while Boeing’s dropped 36%.

Read the full story here.

—Katherine Khashimova Long
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Inflatable costume may be behind outbreak at California hospital

An air-powered, inflatable costume worn by a staff member on Christmas to spread holiday cheer may be to blame for a coronavirus outbreak that infected dozens of workers at a hospital in San Jose, California, a hospital spokeswoman said.

An employee wore the costume “briefly” in the emergency department at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, the spokeswoman, Irene Chavez, said in a statement. The hospital began an investigation after 44 staff members tested positive for the coronavirus between Dec. 27 and Friday, she said.

Inflatable costumes are usually powered by a battery-operated fan that sucks air into the suit, helping it keep its shape. T. rex and sumo wrestler models are among the more popular. Some costumes cover the wearer’s face, while others leave it exposed.

Chavez declined to say what kind of air-powered costume the hospital employee wore, but she described it as “holiday themed.” As part of its response to the outbreak, she said, the hospital was looking into “whether the costume, which did have a fan, was a contributing factor.” Air-powered costumes have been banned, she said.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Biden inauguration to feature virtual, nationwide parade

President-elect Joe Biden arrives at St. Edmond Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President-elect Joe Biden arrives at St. Edmond Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration will include a “virtual parade across America” consistent with crowd limits during the coronavirus era, organizers announced Sunday.

Following the swearing-in ceremony on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 on the west front of the U.S. Capitol, Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, will join Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband in participating in a socially distanced Pass in Review on the Capitol’s opposite front side. Those are military traditions where Biden will review the readiness of military troops.

Biden will also receive a traditional presidential escort with representatives from every branch of the military from 15th Street in Washington to the White House. That, the Presidential Inaugural Committee says, will be socially distanced too, while “providing the American people and world with historic images of the President-elect proceeding to the White House without attracting large crowds.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Washington state reports 4,373 new coronavirus cases over two days

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 4,373 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, which includes two days of test results.

The update includes 2,464 cases from Friday, and 1,909 from Saturday.

It brings the state's totals to 255,396 cases and 3,459 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Saturday, although the state does not report new death data on weekends.

The total case count may include up to 1,700 duplicates, according to DOH. Data on negative test results from a week in November are also incomplete.

In addition, 15,111 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 363 more new hospitalizations than DOH reported Thursday. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have counted a total of 65,265 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,049 deaths.

On Dec. 16, DOH’s case, hospitalization and death counts started including both confirmed cases and probable cases in its total count. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.

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.

—Asia Fields
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The Seattle Times chronicles lives lost to COVID-19 this year

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is generally expressed in numbers. But each data point represents a human life whose loss is felt by countless other people.

A veteran Seattle teacher. A Jamaican farmer who worked seasonally in Okanogan County. A doting grandmother. A bus driver who was preparing to retire. A beloved grocery store bag checker. And more than 3,400 others lost to COVID-19 in Washington state.

The Seattle Times has chronicled some of those lives. Read their stories here.

—Seattle Times staff

A helping hand let a King County mom pursue a degree, a career and remake her family’s life

Two years ago, Donnetta Jamerson didn’t have her medical assistant’s degree or a place to live. She was sleeping in a church with her two children. She credits Wellspring Family Services with helping her to succeed. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Two years ago, Donnetta Jamerson didn’t have her medical assistant’s degree or a place to live. She was sleeping in a church with her two children. She credits Wellspring Family Services with helping her to succeed. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Donnetta Jamerson has seen a lot at work. Severed fingers, broken limbs, chemical burns.

She’s a medical assistant at an occupational health clinic in South King County, where, throughout the pandemic, she’s been tending to area first-responders.

But two years ago, Jamerson didn’t have her medical assistant’s degree, let alone a place to live. She was sleeping in a room in a church with her two children, and with other families who found themselves homeless.

How she ended up in an emergency shelter is an all-too-common story for the 3,743 families with children that are estimated to be homeless on any given night in King County. But part of how Jamerson pulled out of homelessness she credits to the help she received from her case management and support network at local nonprofit Wellspring Family Services, one of 12 local nonprofits boosted by reader donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.

The kind of help Wellspring offers is increasingly in demand. With pandemic job losses and the pressures of child care, low-income families are finding it more difficult to afford the basics. Wellspring helped more than double the number of individuals and households with housing, pandemic-relief funding or other services compared to 2019.

Read the full story here. Read more about Fund For The Needy here.

—Sydney Brownstone

U.S. officials consider half-doses of Moderna’s vaccine to give more people some immunity

A top official of Operation Warp Speed floated a new idea Sunday for stretching the limited number of coronavirus vaccine doses in the United States: halving the dose of each shot of Moderna’s vaccine to potentially double the number of people who could receive it.

Data from Moderna’s clinical trials demonstrated that people between the ages of 18 and 55 who received two 50-microgram doses showed an “identical immune response” to the standard of two 100-microgram doses, said the official, Dr. Moncef Slaoui.

Slaoui said that Operation Warp Speed was in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical company Moderna over implementing the half-dose regimen.

Each vaccine would still be delivered in two, on-schedule doses four weeks apart, Slaoui said in an interview with “CBS’ Face the Nation.” He said it would be up to the FDA to decide whether to move forward.

Slaoui was asked whether the United States would follow Britain’s lead on another tactic for getting shots to more people: delaying second doses of newly authorized vaccines to immunize a larger swath of the population. There is little or no data on dose delays, Slaoui said, but “injecting half the volume” might constitute “a more responsible approach that will be based on facts and data to immunize more people.”

John Moore, a vaccine expert at Cornell University, pointed out that the approach wouldn’t necessarily work for all vaccines. Injections are already doled out in very small volumes, and some might be harder to halve than others, he noted.

While Moore agreed that halving doses has more scientific backing than dose delays, he noted that “this is not something I would want to see done unless it were absolutely necessary.”

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times
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Coronavirus vaccines have arrived, but frustrated Americans are struggling to sign up

Pharmacist Nadine M. Mackey, right, and registered nurse Gloria Campbell, center, react after Campbell received a COVID-19 vaccination at PowerBack Rehabilitation, in Phoenixville, Pa., Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Pharmacist Nadine M. Mackey, right, and registered nurse Gloria Campbell, center, react after Campbell received a COVID-19 vaccination at PowerBack Rehabilitation, in Phoenixville, Pa., Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Barbara Shlevin kept a running tally of calls she made in search of the coronavirus vaccine. By Wednesday, she had tried the health department and a hospital system in Broward County, Fla., 184 times.

Only once did the 71-year-old retired librarian get through. She said she waited more than 10 minutes, and finally heard a voice on the other end of the line. Then, the call cut off. So she started trying online.

For days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the potentially lifesaving vaccine would be available to seniors, Shlevin had no idea when she and her husband would have a chance at it.

“You had at least six months to get ready. You could have figured out a better way to do this,” said Shlevin, of Pompano Beach, Fla. “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

After months of anticipation, millions of doses of the two authorized coronavirus vaccines – made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – are flowing into hospitals and health departments across the nation, putting the end of the pandemic in sight. But Americans trying to access shots are encountering systems that vary widely county to county and that, in many places, are overwhelmed.

Some counties and hospital systems launched reservation websites, only for them to quickly become booked or crash. Others announced appointments only through Facebook, with slots filling before some residents knew to look. And many have not revealed how the vaccine will be made available to anyone beyond health-care workers and long-term care residents and employees, the focus of the first round of vaccinations.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

A COVID-19 relief fund was only for Black residents. Then came the lawsuits.

Joy Mack, who received a grant from the Oregon Cares Fund, which she credits for saving her salon from financial collapse, in Portland, Ore., Dec. 28, 2020. The State of Oregon earmarked $62 million to explicitly benefit Black individuals and business owners. Now some of the money is in limbo after lawsuits alleging discrimination. (Tojo Andrianarivo/The New York Times)
Joy Mack, who received a grant from the Oregon Cares Fund, which she credits for saving her salon from financial collapse, in Portland, Ore., Dec. 28, 2020. The State of Oregon earmarked $62 million to explicitly benefit Black individuals and business owners. Now some of the money is in limbo after lawsuits alleging discrimination. (Tojo Andrianarivo/The New York Times)

Black civic leaders in Oregon heard the alarm bells early in the pandemic.

Data and anecdotes around the country suggested that the coronavirus was disproportionately killing Black people. Locally, Black business owners had begun fretting about their livelihoods, as stay-at-home orders and various other measures were put into place. Many did not have valuable houses they could tap for capital, and requests for government assistance had gone nowhere.

After convening several virtual meetings, the civic leaders proposed a bold and novel solution that state lawmakers approved in July. The state would earmark $62 million of its $1.4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money to provide grants to Black residents, business owners and community organizations enduring pandemic-related hardships.

“It was finally being honest: This is who needs this support right now,” said Lew Frederick, a state senator who is Black.

But now millions of dollars in grants are on hold after one Mexican American and two white business owners sued the state, arguing that the fund for Black residents discriminated against them.

The dispute in Oregon is the latest legal skirmish in the nation’s decadeslong battle over affirmative action, and comes in a year in which the pandemic has starkly exposed the socioeconomic and health disparities that African Americans face. It has unfolded, too, against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, with institutions across America — from corporations to city councils — acknowledging systemic racism, and activists demanding that meaningful steps be taken to undo racial inequities.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

UK’s Johnson warns of more lockdown measures as virus soars

FILE – In this Wednesday Dec. 30, 2020 file photo, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London. Johnson has warned that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely as the country reels from a new variant of the coronavirus that has seen infection rates soar to their highest recorded levels. The U.K. is in the midst of an acute outbreak, recording more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the past five days. (Heathcliff O’Malley/Pool via AP)
FILE – In this Wednesday Dec. 30, 2020 file photo, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London. Johnson has warned that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely as the country reels from a new variant of the coronavirus that has seen infection rates soar to their highest recorded levels. The U.K. is in the midst of an acute outbreak, recording more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the past five days. (Heathcliff O’Malley/Pool via AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely in the coming weeks as the country reels from a new coronavirus variant that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels.

Johnson, though, insisted he has “no doubt” that schools are safe and urged parents to send their children back into the classroom in areas of England where they can. Unions representing teachers have called for schools to turn to remote learning for at least a couple of weeks more due to the new variant, which scientists have said is up to 70% more contagious.

The U.K. is in the midst of an acute outbreak, recording more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the past six days. On Sunday, it notched up another 54,990 cases, down slightly from the previous day’s daily record of 57,725. The country also recorded another 454 virus-related deaths to take the total to 75,024. According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the U.K. is alternating with Italy as the worst-hit European nation.

“We are entirely reconciled to do what it takes to get the virus under control, that may involve tougher measures in the weeks ahead,” Johnson said in an interview with the BBC. “Obviously there are a range of tougher measures that we would have to consider.”

Johnson conceded that school closures, curfews and the total banning of household mixing could be on the agenda for areas under the most stress.

Read more here.

—The Associated Press
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India OKs AstraZeneca and locally made COVID-19 vaccines

India authorized two COVID-19 vaccines on Sunday, paving the way for a huge inoculation program to stem the coronavirus pandemic in the world’s second most populous country.

The country’s drugs regulator gave emergency authorization for the vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another developed by the Indian company Bharat Biotech.

Drugs Controller General Dr. Venugopal G. Somani said that both vaccines would be administered in two dosages. He said the decision to approve the vaccines was made after “careful examination” by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, India’s pharmaceutical regulator.

Volunteers wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus clear the debris left over by tourists at Maidan, the city’s largest open space in Kolkata, India, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. India authorized two COVID-19 vaccines on Sunday, paving the way for a huge inoculation program to stem the coronavirus pandemic in the world’s second most populous country. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
Volunteers wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus clear the debris left over by tourists at Maidan, the city’s largest open space in Kolkata, India, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. India authorized two COVID-19 vaccines on Sunday, paving the way for a huge inoculation program to stem the coronavirus pandemic in the world’s second most populous country. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the vaccine approval a “decisive turning point to strengthen a spirited fight.”

“It would make every Indian proud that the two vaccines that have been given emergency use approval are made in India!” Modi tweeted.

AstraZeneca has contracted Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, to make 1 billion doses of its vaccine for developing nations, including India. On Wednesday, Britain became the first country to approve the shot.

India, however, will not allow the export of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine for several months, Adar Poonawalla, Serum Institute’s CEO, said Sunday. The ban on exports means that poorer nations will probably have to wait a few months before receiving their first shots.

The move was made to ensure that vulnerable populations in India are protected and to prevent hoarding, Poonawalla said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Zimbabwe returns to restrictions amid rise in virus cases

In response to rising COVID-19 numbers, Zimbabwe has reintroduced a night curfew, banned public gatherings, and indefinitely suspended the opening of schools.

“We are being overwhelmed and overrun,” Information Minister Nick Mangwana warned, saying the country’s hospitals are rapidly reaching capacity with COVID-19 patients.

Thousands of people attend a music concert to celebrate New Year’s in the Mbare suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe, early Friday, Jan 1, 2021. Despite a government ban on music concerts and public gatherings due to a surge in COVID-19 infections and the new and more contagious variants of the disease, thousands of people gathered in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods to celebrate the new year. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Thousands of people attend a music concert to celebrate New Year’s in the Mbare suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe, early Friday, Jan 1, 2021. Despite a government ban on music concerts and public gatherings due to a surge in COVID-19 infections and the new and more contagious variants of the disease, thousands of people gathered in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods to celebrate the new year. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwe recorded 1,342 cases and 29 deaths in the past week, “the highest number recorded so far,” Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said, announcing the strict measures.

Zimbabwe’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 0.90 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 19 to 1.47 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 2.

Funerals are now limited to 30 people while other gatherings such as weddings and church services are banned for 30 days. Restaurants and beer taverns have also been closed.

The government has postponed indefinitely the opening of schools for a new term that was supposed to start on Monday, Jan. 4.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Fauci: Vaccinations are ramping up in a `glimmer of hope’

FILE – In this July 21, 2020, file photo, Darryl Hutchinson, facing camera, is hugged by a relative during a funeral service for Lydia Nunez, who was Hutchinson’s cousin at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Nunez died from COVID-19. Southern California funeral homes are turning away bereaved families because they’re running out of space for the bodies piling up during an unrelenting coronavirus surge. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
FILE – In this July 21, 2020, file photo, Darryl Hutchinson, facing camera, is hugged by a relative during a funeral service for Lydia Nunez, who was Hutchinson’s cousin at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Nunez died from COVID-19. Southern California funeral homes are turning away bereaved families because they’re running out of space for the bodies piling up during an unrelenting coronavirus surge. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The U.S. ramped up COVID-19 vaccinations in the past few days after a slower-than-expected start, bringing to 4 million the number of Americans who have received shots, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

The government’s top infectious-disease expert also said on ABC’s “This Week” that President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to administer 100 million shots of the vaccine within his first 100 days in office is achievable.

And he rejected President Donald Trump’s false claim on Twitter that coronavirus deaths and cases in the U.S. have been greatly exaggerated.

“All you need to do … is go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The U.S. death toll has climbed past 350,000, the most of any country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, while more than 20 million people nationwide have been infected. States have reported record numbers of cases over the past few days, and funeral homes in Southern California are being inundated with bodies.

Experts believe the real numbers of deaths and infections are much higher and that many cases were overlooked, in part because of insufficient testing.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center has COVID-19 outbreak

An outbreak of COVID-19 spread to 30 patients in the past week at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, according to a news release from PeaceHealth on Friday evening.

None of the patients were admitted because of the virus, and none tested positive upon admission, the Columbian reported.

Additionally, six employees who were caring for the patients also tested positive for the virus, and PeaceHealth placed 86 employees in self-quarantine because of the outbreak.

“Our Infection Prevention specialists immediately began conducting a thorough review to understand the root causes of this situation, and to ensure further protection for our patients and caregivers,” said Lawrence Neville, MD, chief medical officer, in the news release.

“This is a highly complex exposure, and we are continuing to look into the situation and have put control measures in place to prevent further exposures.”

Clark County Public Health and PeaceHealth are notifying potentially exposed patients, the news release stated.

“Unfortunately, this is a reminder that COVID remains in our community and can spread very rapidly,” Neville said. “We must all remain vigilant about physical distancing, wearing masks and limiting our gatherings.”

PeaceHealth is a nonprofit Catholic health care organization.

—The Associated Press

In Somalia, COVID-19 vaccines are distant as virus spreads

A woman builds her makeshift shelter in Daynile camp in Mogadishu, Somalia on Thursday Dec. 17, 2020. As richer countries race to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, Somalia remains the rare place where much of the population hasn’t taken the coronavirus seriously. Some fear that’s proven to be deadlier than anyone knows. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)
A woman builds her makeshift shelter in Daynile camp in Mogadishu, Somalia on Thursday Dec. 17, 2020. As richer countries race to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, Somalia remains the rare place where much of the population hasn’t taken the coronavirus seriously. Some fear that’s proven to be deadlier than anyone knows. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

As richer countries race to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, Somalia remains the rare place where much of the population hasn’t taken the coronavirus seriously. Some fear that’s proven to be deadlier than anyone knows.

“Certainly our people don’t use any form of protective measures, neither masks nor social distancing,” Abdirizak Yusuf Hirabeh, the government’s COVID-19 incident manager, said in an interview. “If you move around the city (of Mogadishu) or countrywide, nobody even talks about it.” And yet infections are rising, he said.

It is places like Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation torn apart by three decades of conflict, that will be last to see COVID-19 vaccines in any significant quantity. With part of the country still held by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, the risk of the virus becoming endemic in some hard-to-reach areas is strong — a fear for parts of Africa amid the slow arrival of vaccines.

“There is no real or practical investigation into the matter,” said Hirabeh, who is also the director of the Martini hospital in Mogadishu, the largest treating COVID-19 patients, which saw seven new patients the day he spoke. He acknowledged that neither facilities nor equipment are adequate in Somalia to tackle the virus.

Fewer than 27,000 tests for the virus have been conducted in Somalia, a country of more than 15 million people, one of the lowest rates in the world. Fewer than 4,800 cases have been confirmed, including at least 130 deaths.

Some worry the virus will sink into the population as yet another poorly diagnosed but deadly fever.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Conservatives push back on Washington’s COVID-19 restrictions with protests and legislation

Conservatives in Washington spent much of 2020 fuming that Gov. Jay Inslee used the broad powers given him by the Legislature to enact restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

And unlike other states where lawmakers held emergency sessions to respond to the pandemic, Inslee and Democratic leaders didn’t call a special session in Washington.

The state Capitol in Olympia has been the site of escalating protests recently, and entrances are barricaded in this Dec. 18, 2020, photo. Activists also plan to protest the fact that the upcoming legislative session will be held primarily remotely.  (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
The state Capitol in Olympia has been the site of escalating protests recently, and entrances are barricaded in this Dec. 18, 2020, photo. Activists also plan to protest the fact that the upcoming legislative session will be held primarily remotely. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Now, Republican lawmakers are proposing bills to curb the governor’s emergency powers and a constitutional amendment to make it easier for the Legislature to call itself back into session.

With Democrats controlling strong majorities in both the House and Senate, the proposals are not likely to pass, but they pose a philosophical debate over executive power and checks and balances in government.

The legislation comes as conservative organizers plan to protest at the Legislature this month when lawmakers convene, in a session that will take place mostly remotely due to the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan
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Rising cases of COVID-19 stock scams threaten investors

A sign for Wall Street and American flags in New York, U.S.. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
A sign for Wall Street and American flags in New York, U.S.. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

The popularity of making quick moves via stock-trading apps in 2020 and the string of hopeful headlines relating to COVID-19 vaccines could create a deadly mix for investors who don't do their homework.

Not surprisingly, it's prime time for con artists who may push phony stock schemes that are pegged to the pandemic.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has spotted a variety of bad deals, including wild claims that a small, little-known publicly traded company is on the verge of rolling out a cure for COVID-19 or another may be supposedly developing a product or service that can prevent or detect the virus.

Potential victims might spot one of these hot stocks via Facebook, Twitter, an unexpected email or a phone call out of the blue that touts the next sure thing.

In an alert issued Dec. 14, the SEC warned of a "significant uptick in tips, complaints, and referrals involving investment scams."

Read the full story here.

—Detroit Free Press

India bars company from exporting vaccines

India will not allow the export of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for several months, the head of Serum Institute of India, which has been contracted to make 1 billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations, said Sunday.

With rich nations reserving most of the vaccines that will be made this year, Serum Institute — the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer — is likely to make most of the inoculations for developing countries. The ban on exports, however, means that poorer nations will probably have to wait a few months before receiving their first shots.

The vaccine was granted emergency authorization by the Indian regulator on Sunday, but on the condition that Serum Institute doesn’t export the shots to ensure that vulnerable populations in India are protected, Adar Poonawalla, the company’s CEO, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

He said that the company also has been barred from selling the vaccine on the private market.

“We can only give (the vaccines) to the government of India at the moment,” Poonawalla said, adding the decision was also made to prevent hoarding.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press