Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, Jan. 4, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

An official for Operation Warp Speed on Sunday proposed a possible way to get more bang for our vaccine buck: halving the dose of each shot of Moderna’s vaccine to potentially double the number of people who could receive it.

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

The vaccine would still be delivered in two doses four weeks apart, Slaoui said in an interview on CBS, and it would be up to the FDA to decide whether to move forward with the idea.

We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world.

Click here to see previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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NBA tells teams that rules on mask-wearing will get tougher

MIAMI — The NBA is adopting a tougher policy regarding masks, telling teams Monday that players on the active roster will have to wear the face coverings in the bench area until they enter games.

That memo, obtained by The Associated Press, was released on the same day the Brooklyn Nets ruled All-Star forward Kevin Durant out for Tuesday’s game against Utah in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols for dealing with coronavirus.

Among the new rules, which take effect Tuesday: players who are dressed for games and eligible to participate must wear a face mask until they enter the game, all players and coaches must wear face masks when outside the team environment if they are around other players and coaches, and players must report the names of any private trainer, therapist, chiropractor or other specialist who they work with outside of the team facility.

It’s the latest update to a plan the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are continuing to evaluate, especially lately given the continued uptick in cases following the holiday season.

—Associated Press
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Trebek urges support for COVID-19 victims in 1 of last shows

NEW YORK — In a message taped for what turned out to be his final week as “Jeopardy!” host, Alex Trebek urged the game show’s viewers to honor the season of giving by helping victims of the coronavirus epidemic.

Trebek’s plea aired in the opening moments of the show that aired on Monday.

“We’re trying to build a gentler, kinder society and if we all pitch in just a little bit, we’re going to get there,” he said.

Trebek died November 8 at age 80 of pancreatic cancer but had pre-taped several weeks of shows that have continued to air. Monday’s show began the final week of programs that he left behind.

His last week of shows were originally scheduled to air on Christmas week; two categories of clues on Monday were “December 21” and “Christmas on Broadway.” But to give Trebek’s final week wider exposure, “Jeopardy!” put them off until this week.

—Associated Press

Mall of America no longer delinquent on its $1.4B mortgage

After falling months behind on the mortgage of the Mall of America during the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the mall’s owner has modified the terms of the $1.4 billion mortgage and is now current on the loan.

“The past ten months proved incredibly challenging for everyone,” Mall of America said in a statement Monday.

The Triple Five Group, MOA’s owner, the owner of the country’s largest mall, had first started missing mortgage payments in April after the mall had to temporarily close due to the pandemic, according to data firm Trepp, which tracks commercial mortgage-backed security loans. Following an initial grace period, the loan for the Mall of America has continued to be delinquent for months, but is now current as of December.

“Facing these unprecedented economic times, we immediately began to work with our lending partners to address the cash flow issues created by this loss of revenue,” MOA said in its statements. “We are pleased to have been able to resolve the outstanding issues to the satisfaction of all parties involved."

The Mall of America was closed from mid March to June and has suffered from a decline in foot traffic like shopping centers across the country. More consumers have avoided visiting stores in person due to the risks of the coronavirus, many turning to online sales.

—Star Tribune

Championed by supporters and Northwest far-right groups, Washington restaurants openly defy COVID-19 restrictions

Protesters listen to speakers Monday in the parking lot of Farm Boy restaurant, outside of Olympia, that is defying restrictions against sit-down service. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
Protesters listen to speakers Monday in the parking lot of Farm Boy restaurant, outside of Olympia, that is defying restrictions against sit-down service. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

WOODLAND, Cowlitz County — Outside the door to Brock’s Bar & Grill, people stood on the sidewalk with U.S. and Trump 2020 flags. Inside, the place was packed with people enjoying Sunday afternoon drinks in what was billed as a “Day of Defiance” to the COVID-19 restrictions that have banned such service in the state of Washington.

This protest on Sunday was part of a broader backlash in parts of Washington and Oregon against measures imposed in recent months by the states’ governors to try to slow the spread of the pandemic. 

The movement has gained support among residents in some communities wary of government pronouncements and angry over rules that have kept big-box stores open while shutting down indoor-dining services.

And it has been championed on social media by a far-right network including Patriot Prayer, Washington Three Percenters, the Proud Boys and People’s Rights, a group formed with the help of Ammon Bundy, an organizer of the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover.

These events have included statehouse rallies in Olympia and Salem that drew armed supporters, and sometimes turned violent. And some have done double duty as rallies in support of President Trump as speakers echo the president’s claims — rejected dozens of times by courts — that the election was stolen from him through fraud.

Read the full story here.

—Hal Bernton
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Oregon governor sets goal for faster COVID-19 vaccinations

SALEM, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown on Monday called for COVID-19 vaccination improvements as the Oregon Health Authority reported 731 new cases and six more deaths. 

State officials have received nearly 200,000 vaccine doses but have administered only about a quarter, a rate that places Oregon among the slowest performing states nationwide, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Brown’s comments came after the state recorded its deadliest month, with at least 436 deaths among Oregonians with COVID-19 in December.

“Oregon, like most of the country, is not moving fast enough,” Brown said in a news release. “All states are grappling with the same logistical challenges, and while we are making steady progress, we must move even more quickly when every vaccination has the potential to save someone’s life.”

—Associated Press

Larry King, hospitalized with COVID, moved out of ICU

LOS ANGELES — Veteran talk show host Larry King, suffering from COVID-19, has been moved out of the intensive care unit at a Los Angeles hospital and is breathing on his own, a spokesman said on Monday.

King was moved to the ICU on New Year’s Eve and was receiving oxygen but is now breathing on his own, said David Theall, a spokesman for Ora Media, a production company formed by King.

The 87-year-old broadcasting legend shared a video phone call with his three sons, Theall said.

King, who spent many years as an overnight radio DJ, is best known as host of the “Larry King Live” interview show that ran in prime time on CNN from 1985 to 2010.

—Associated Press

West Virginia governor defends his resort’s New Year’s party

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice brushed off criticism that the posh resort he owns did not follow coronavirus pandemic guidelines after video surfaced of a New Year’s Eve gala showing a tightly packed ballroom, with many people not wearing masks.

The Republican governor, who did not attend the event, has advocated strict mask-wearing — and now advocates vaccinations — as imperative to controlling the coronavirus across the rural state. But video posted online of the billionaire businessman’s resort, The Greenbrier, called into question whether Justice is enforcing pandemic restrictions that have curtailed other businesses.

The governor on Monday called the criticism a “political hit” at him and referred to a Democratic state senator who posted video of the party.

Justice defended protocols put in place by Greenbrier staff, although he said the situation could have been handled better. 

—Associated Press
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Minnesota fitness club manager subdues gunman angry over unmasked patrons

MINNEAPOLIS — A suburban fitness club manager tackled and disarmed a man who pointed a handgun at the manager’s chest while complaining that members were exercising without masks, prosecutors said Monday.

Michael M. Florhaug, 64, of Maplewood, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with assault with a dangerous weapon in connection with the incident about 30 minutes before Thursday’s 6 p.m. closing time at the LA Fitness in Maplewood.

Florhaug remains jailed in lieu of $50,000 bail ahead of a court appearance Tuesday. Court records do not list an attorney for him.

Assistant manager Mike Olson, 33, said Monday afternoon that “I just kind of knew that it had to be done. It didn’t take much thinking. It was more of a reaction.”

Olson credited his willingness to risk his life to his four years in the Army, especially during an eight-month tour in Iraq in 2007-08.

Maplewood police investigative Sgt. Joe Steiner said that while “we definitely recommend that people call the police and try not to take matters in their own hands, it appears that the manager didn’t really have a choice. He felt like people’s lives were at risk. … He did a great job.”

—Star Tribune

Health officials report 1,910 new coronavirus cases in Washington

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,910 new coronavirus cases and 23 new deaths on Monday.

The update brings the state's totals to 256,435 cases and 3,482 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. Sunday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.

In addition, 15,160 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 49 are new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 65,570 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,052 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.

—Elise Takahama

Heading off the next pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic heads for a showdown with vaccines it’s expected to lose, many experts in the field of emerging infectious diseases are already focused on preventing the next one.

They fear another virus will leap from wildlife into humans, one that is far more lethal but spreads as easily as SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. A virus like that could change the trajectory of life on the planet, experts say.

“What keeps me up at night is that another coronavirus like MERS, which has a much, much higher mortality rate, becomes as transmissible as COVID,” said Christian Walzer, executive director of health at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The logistics and the psychological trauma of that would be unbearable.”

SARS-CoV-2 has an average mortality rate of less than 1%, while the mortality rate for Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS — which spread from camels into humans — is 35%. Other viruses that have leapt the species barrier to humans, such as bat-borne Nipah, have a mortality rate as high as 75%.

“There is a huge diversity of viruses in nature, and there is the possibility that one has the Goldilocks characteristics of pre-symptomatic transmission with a high fatality rate,” said Raina Plowright, a virus researcher at the Bozeman Disease Ecology Lab in Montana. (Covid-19 is highly transmissible before the onset of symptoms but fortunately is far less lethal than several other known viruses.) “It would change civilization.”

Read the full story here.

—Jim Robbins, Kaiser Health News
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Nigerian scientist studies country’s coronavirus variant as cases rise

In this photo taken on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, Virologist Sunday Omilabu speaks, during an interview with The Associated Press, in Lagos, Nigeria. A Nigerian scientist has spent the holiday season in his laboratory doing genetic sequencing to learn more about the country’s COVID-19 variant, as cases increase in the country. Virologist Sunday Omilabu says the information he gathers about the variant will help battle the spread of the disease in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 196 million people. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, Virologist Sunday Omilabu speaks, during an interview with The Associated Press, in Lagos, Nigeria. A Nigerian scientist has spent the holiday season in his laboratory doing genetic sequencing to learn more about the country’s COVID-19 variant, as cases increase in the country. Virologist Sunday Omilabu says the information he gathers about the variant will help battle the spread of the disease in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 196 million people. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)

A Nigerian scientist spent the holiday season in his laboratory doing genetic sequencing to learn more about the country’s COVID-19 variant as cases increase in the country.

Virologist Sunday Omilabu said the variants discovered in the U.K. and South Africa are distantly different from the variants discovered in Nigeria. Nigeria is seeing more infections of COVID-19 but it is not yet certain if that is from the variant, said Omilambu, the director of the Center for Human and Zoonotic Virology at the Lagos University College of Medicine and Teaching Hospital.

Nigeria has confirmed 89,163 COVID-19 cases, including 1,302 deaths, according to the figures Sunday from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Thailand confirms 745 new coronavirus cases

 Thailand has registered 745 new coronavirus cases, with a new death reported in Bangkok, where a semi-lockdown went into effect.

The Center of COVID-19 Situation Administration said Monday the number included 152 Thais and 577 migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, the province next to Bangkok that is the epicenter of the new outbreak.

Nearly all the infected workers were employed in fish markets and factories and are all housed in dormitories that have been closed off to the public since the recent outbreak began. Since the initial spike in late December, the virus has now been found in 54 of Thailand’s 73 provinces.

FILE – In this Dec. 20, 2020, file photo,  People stand in lines to get COVID-19 tests in Samut Sakhon, South of Bangkok. Thailand, which has kept the coronavirus largely in check for most of the year, is facing a challenge from a large outbreak of the virus among migrant workers in the province close to Bangkok.(AP Photo/Jerry Harmer, File)
FILE – In this Dec. 20, 2020, file photo, People stand in lines to get COVID-19 tests in Samut Sakhon, South of Bangkok. Thailand, which has kept the coronavirus largely in check for most of the year, is facing a challenge from a large outbreak of the virus among migrant workers in the province close to Bangkok.(AP Photo/Jerry Harmer, File)

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Alberta leader reverses course, punishes for pandemic travel

Alberta’s premier has reversed course and is now punishing members of his government for vacationing outside Canada in defiance of government guidelines urging people to avoid nonessential travel during the pandemic.

Premier Jason Kenney said Monday he asked his chief of staff to resign and accepted the resignation of his Municipal Affairs minister. Several other members of his United Conservative party have also been demoted for travelling outside Canada.

Kenney said last week he would not punish members of his government after he said he learned of travel abroad by a number of people in his government.

“Over the weekend I have listened to Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences,” Kenney tweeted Monday.

Politicians travelling abroad for vacations during the pandemic became a big story in Canada last week after it became known that Ontario’s finance minister went to the luxury Caribbean island of St. Barts for weeks and seemingly tried to hide the fact by sending social media posts showing him in a sweater before a fireplace.

Read the story here.

—Rob Gillies, The Associated Press
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Statehouses could prove to be hothouses for virus infection

As lawmakers around the U.S. convene this winter to deal with the crisis created by the pandemic, statehouses themselves could prove to be hothouses for infection.

FILE – In this Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 file photo, House members participate in a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. As states brace for a coronavirus surge following holiday gatherings, one place stands out as a potential super-spreader site, the statehouses where lawmakers will help shape the response to the pandemic. (Sue Ogrocki / The Associated Press)
FILE – In this Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 file photo, House members participate in a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. As states brace for a coronavirus surge following holiday gatherings, one place stands out as a potential super-spreader site, the statehouses where lawmakers will help shape the response to the pandemic. (Sue Ogrocki / The Associated Press)

Many legislatures will start the year meeting remotely, but some Republican-controlled statehouses, from Montana to Pennsylvania, plan to hold at least part of their sessions in person, without requiring masks. Public health officials say that move endangers the safety of other lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists, the public and the journalists responsible for holding politicians accountable.

The risk is more than mere speculation: An ongoing tally by The Associated Press finds that more than 230 state lawmakers across the country have contracted COVID-19, and at least seven have died.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Prosecutor: Wisconsin pharmacist thought vaccine was unsafe

A Wisconsin pharmacist told police he tried to ruin hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine because he felt the shots weren’t safe, a prosecutor said Monday.

Police in Grafton, near Milwaukee, arrested Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist Steven Brandenburg last week following an investigation into 57 spoiled vials of the Moderna vaccine, enough to inoculate more than 500 people.

“He’d formed this belief they were unsafe,” Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said during a virtual hearing. He added that Brandenburg was upset because he was in the midst of divorcing his wife, and an Aurora employee said Brandenburg had taken a gun to work twice.

Gerol didn’t explain why Brandenburg thought the vaccine wasn’t safe.

Charges are pending and the FBI and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are also investigating.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

EU rejects criticism for slow vaccine rollout across bloc

FILE – In this Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 file photo, a nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London. As Canadians, Britons and Americans begin getting immunized with a German-developed vaccine against the coronavirus, pressure is building on the European Medicines Agency to approve the shot made by Pfizer Inc. and German company BioNTech. Those countries all approved the COVID-19 vaccine under emergency use rules, meaning it is an unlicensed product. But the EMA approval process for coronavirus vaccines is largely similar to the standard licensing procedure that would be granted to any new vaccine, only on an accelerated schedule.  (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool, File)
FILE – In this Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 file photo, a nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London. As Canadians, Britons and Americans begin getting immunized with a German-developed vaccine against the coronavirus, pressure is building on the European Medicines Agency to approve the shot made by Pfizer Inc. and German company BioNTech. Those countries all approved the COVID-19 vaccine under emergency use rules, meaning it is an unlicensed product. But the EMA approval process for coronavirus vaccines is largely similar to the standard licensing procedure that would be granted to any new vaccine, only on an accelerated schedule. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool, File)

The European Commission defended its coronavirus vaccination strategy Monday amid growing criticism in member states about the slow rollout of COVID-19 shots across the region of 450 million inhabitants.

Vaccinations programs in the 27 nation-bloc have gotten off to a slow start and some EU members have been quick to blame the EU’s executive arm for a perceived failure of delivering the right amount of doses.

Facing a barrage of questions on vaccines during a news conference, EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said the main problem with the deployment of vaccination programs “is an issue of production capacity, an issue that everybody is facing.”

As part of its strategy, the EU has sealed six vaccines contracts, with Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Pfizer-BioNTech and CureVac. But only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use so far in the 27-nation bloc.

Asked why the Commission did not buy more doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Stefan de Keersmaecker, the Commission’s health policy spokesman, said the “main philosophy was to diversify our portfolio, not to put all our eggs in one basket.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Inside a Michigan COVID-19 unit, nurses fear people ‘just don’t care’

It was a Tuesday afternoon in mid-December at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills near Detroit. Inside, dozens of people were alone in rooms with closed doors, hooked up to oxygen tanks and IV medicine, sickened by the virus that came to define 2020.

Every room in the south pavilion of the 20-bed progressive care unit was full. Half of the beds were occupied with coronavirus patients. The other half were filled with people who’d had heart attacks or strokes or other conditions that led them to seek hospital care.

Despite statewide public health orders requiring masks, limiting large gatherings, and prohibiting dine-in eating at restaurants and bars, “people are still gathering,” said Hassan Beydoun, a registered nurse and assistant manager of the unit, which is filled with patients who aren’t quite sick enough to need intensive care, but who need more attention than those in general care units.

“It’s very stressful,” Beydoun said “It’s scary, to be honest with you, because I don’t feel like people know what’s going on exactly in the hospitals. And I feel like some people just don’t care, you know?”

Hassan Beydoun, assistant nurse manager in the progressive care unit at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan, checks on a COVID-19 patient. “I don’t feel like people know what’s going on exactly in the hospitals,” he said.  (Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press)
Hassan Beydoun, assistant nurse manager in the progressive care unit at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan, checks on a COVID-19 patient. “I don’t feel like people know what’s going on exactly in the hospitals,” he said. (Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press)

Read the story here.

—Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press

France charges an alleged organizer of giant New Year’s rave

In this photo providedby the French Gendarmerie, gendarmes are deployed, near Lieruon, Brittany, France, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. A French prosecutor said police detained seven people Saturday, including two alleged organizers, after a New Year’s Eve rave party drew at least 2,500 people in western France despite a coronavirus curfew and other restrictions. (Gendarmerie Nationale via AP)
In this photo providedby the French Gendarmerie, gendarmes are deployed, near Lieruon, Brittany, France, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. A French prosecutor said police detained seven people Saturday, including two alleged organizers, after a New Year’s Eve rave party drew at least 2,500 people in western France despite a coronavirus curfew and other restrictions. (Gendarmerie Nationale via AP)

 An alleged organizer of an illegal New Year’s Eve rave that at least 2,500 people attended for more than a day in western France was charged Monday with endangering lives amid a coronavirus curfew and other restrictions.

The 22-year-old man also faced property damage and drug charges among other offenses, and was placed in custody, prosecutor Philippe Astruc told a news conference.

Ravers from France and abroad converged Thursday night on a hangar in Lieuron, in Brittany, to party into the new year. They left Saturday morning about 36 hours later. Officials said the partygoers attacked the police on the first night, torching a police vehicle and slightly injuring three officers with bottles and stones.

Police have fined more than 1,600 people, including 1,200 for violating virus-related rules and over 200 for drug-related offenses, Astruc added. Less than 5% of participants were wearing a mask during the party, he said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

TSA screened more than 1.3 million people Sunday, the most since the pandemic began

More than 1.3 million people moved through U.S. airport security checkpoints Sunday – the most since the beginning of the pandemic, officials with the Transportation Security Administration, announced Monday.

The number was still far below what it was in 2019 when more than 2.4 million people were screened on the same day.

Travelers wear masks while passing through a checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport late Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Denver.  (David Zalubowski / The Associated Press)
Travelers wear masks while passing through a checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport late Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Denver. (David Zalubowski / The Associated Press)

Despite recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people not travel during the holiday season, December proved to be one of the busiest months at airports across the country, with the number of people screened exceeding 1 million on nine separate days. For the first three days of January, screening volumes exceeded 1 million twice, Saturday and Sunday.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post
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Repo men face a big year in 2021 as car payments go overdue

While many hard-pressed consumers fight to cover mortgage and rent payments during the pandemic, growing numbers are struggling to hold onto their main economic lifeline: their cars.

When Congress passed its coronavirus relief act in March, the legislation included protections for mortgage holders and some rental property owners holding federally backed loans. But nothing was done to shield auto owners with delinquent car loan payments. As a result, many who are unable to keep pace with their payments are potentially exposed to reduced credit scores — or worse — having their cars towed away.

Paradoxically, the pace of auto repossessions has been slow since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, industry experts say. That’s largely because of leeway given to owners by lenders on their car payments. But consumer lawyers and analysts believe repo men could be back in force in 2021 — particularly if Congress fails to produce a new round of financial relief for troubled households.

For many car owners, the time to scramble is now.

Read the story here.

—David Lyons, South Florida Sun Sentinel

UK’s Johnson to outline new restrictions to slow COVID-19

Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to outline tougher restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 on Monday, even as Britain ramped up its vaccination program by becoming the first nation to start using the shot developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Chase Farm Hospital in north London on Monday.  He warned Sunday that more onerous lockdown restrictions are likely in the coming weeks as the country reels from a coronavirus variant that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels. (Stefan Rousseau / The Associated Press)
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Chase Farm Hospital in north London on Monday. He warned Sunday that more onerous lockdown restrictions are likely in the coming weeks as the country reels from a coronavirus variant that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels. (Stefan Rousseau / The Associated Press)

Johnson, who has said tougher measures are imminent, announced that he would address the nation Monday. The U.K. Parliament will be recalled from its holiday recess to sit on Wednesday. The prime minister’s office didn’t release any details of the new measures ahead of Johnson’s remarks.

The U.K. has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks as public health officials struggle to control the spread of a new variant of COVID-19 that is more contagious than previous variants. Authorities have recorded more than 50,000 new infections a day since passing that milestone for the first time on Dec. 29. On Monday, they reported 407 virus-related deaths to push the confirmed death toll total to 75,431, one of the worst in Europe.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Washington science teachers get creative during pandemic learning

It’s a brisk afternoon in late November. Many of Seattle’s trees have shed their summer leaves. But India Carlson is surrounded by lush green plants.

Every two weeks or so, Carlson, a botany and environmental horticulture teacher at Ballard High School, dons a mask and gloves, carts out trays of plants to the back of the school and awaits her students. She hands out colorful coleus, catnip, geraniums and succulents.

The teens arrive one by one, have quick chats with the teacher they mostly see over video lessons, and depart with new flora to care for at home. On a few occasions, she’s dropped off plants at her students’ homes.

“My expectations of being able to cover a specific amount of content? That’s out the window,” said Carlson, who has run the school’s greenhouse for 13 years. “My whole thing is, I want students to be interested in and engaging with science on a personal level.”

About every two weeks, India Carlson, a botany and environmental horticulture teacher at Ballard High School, dons a mask and gloves, carts out trays of plants to the back of the school, and gives plants to students like Kate Williamson, 17, right. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
About every two weeks, India Carlson, a botany and environmental horticulture teacher at Ballard High School, dons a mask and gloves, carts out trays of plants to the back of the school, and gives plants to students like Kate Williamson, 17, right. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

This is science class during the pandemic: teachers turning typically hands-on lessons on their head, and finding lively ways to engage students learning remotely. 

Read the story here.

—Hannah Furfaro
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NCAA to play all 67 March Madness men’s games in Indiana

The NCAA announced Monday that all 67 men’s basketball tournament games including the Final Four will be played entirely in Indiana in a bid to keep the marquee event from being called off for a second consecutive year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Championship weekend is still scheduled for April 3 and April 5 but preliminary round dates have not yet been determined. Also undetermined is how many fans will be allowed inside the venues.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Black California surgeon ‘walks the walk’ on virus vaccine

Dr. David Tom Cooke says his choice to participate in a clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine is like his grandmother’s decision to leave the Jim Crow South to work in California’s naval shipyards during World War II. She was determined to contribute even though the country didn’t recognize her as worthy of full rights.

Today, it’s Cooke’s sense of duty and experience as a Black man that led him to test out Pfizer’s vaccine in August and make it his mission to allay concerns about its safety among Black friends, family and community members. He’s also driven by an understanding of skepticism toward the medical profession among many Black Americans, rooted in a history of poor health outcomes and abusive research.

Cooke, 48, was concerned when he saw a lack of diversity among participants in Moderna’s clinical trial. So when UC Davis had the opportunity to connect people with a trial by Pfizer, he volunteered. He got the first shot in August and recently learned he’d been given the actual vaccine.

Read the story here.

—Kathleen Ronayne, The Associated Press

North Pacific fishing crews face new season after a tough 2020 of small fish and COVID-19

The Saildrones traveled thousands of miles from California to the Bering Sea and back. (Saildrone)
The Saildrones traveled thousands of miles from California to the Bering Sea and back. (Saildrone)

Skipper Kevin Ganley spent most of the summer and fall pulling a massive trawl net through the Bering Sea in a long slow search for pollock, a staple of McDonald’s fish sandwiches. The fish proved very hard to find.

“We just scratched and scratched and scratched,” Ganley recalls. “It was survival mode.”

Ganley’s boat is part of a fleet of largely Washington-based trawlers that have had a difficult year as they joined in North America’s largest single-species seafood harvest. Their catch rates in 2020 during the five-month “B” season that ended Nov. 1 were well below long-term averages. They also encountered more skinny, small fish — fit for mince but not prime fillets — than in a typical year, according to a federal review of the season.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 greatly complicated the essential task of keeping crews healthy as one company, Seattle-based American Seafoods, was hit with outbreaks on three vessels. The pandemic also resulted in the cancellation of some research surveys that help scientists measure fish stocks in a body of water that has been undergoing climatic changes as temperatures warm.

This has added an unwelcome element of suspense as crews start their COVID-19 two-week quarantines before the Jan. 20 start of the “A” season.

Read the story here.

—Hal Bernton
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France’s go-slow coronavirus vaccination strategy backfires

France’s cautious approach to rolling out a coronavirus vaccination program appears to have backfired, leaving barely 500 people inoculated in the first week and rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic.

The slow rollout of the vaccine made by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech was blamed on mismanagement, staffing shortages during holiday vacations and a complex French consent policy designed to accommodate unusually broad vaccine skepticism among the French public.

Doctors, mayors and opposition politicians pleaded Monday for speedier access to vaccines.

“It’s a state scandal,” said Jean Rottner, president of the Grand-Est region of eastern France, where infections are surging and some hospitals are over capacity. “Getting vaccinated is becoming more complicated than buying a car.”

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—The Associated Press

Virus, more than Brexit fallout, worry in and near Gibraltar

Fears of disruptions following Britain’s departure from the European Union were replaced by coronavirus-related restrictions on border traffic between Spain and Gibraltar on Monday, the first working day at the United Kingdom’s only land border with the European mainland.

FILE – In this Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 file photo, an eerial view of Gibraltar rock seen from the neighbouring Spanish city of La Linea, during a general election in Gibraltar. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo, File)
FILE – In this Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 file photo, an eerial view of Gibraltar rock seen from the neighbouring Spanish city of La Linea, during a general election in Gibraltar. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo, File)

Only a share of essential workers from an average of 15,000 who cross the fence between Spain’s La Línea de la Concepción and the British territory on a normal day were venturing into Gibraltar, which went into lockdown late Saturday amid a surge in virus cases that is putting under pressure its limited health infrastructure.

Under the new stay-at-home order, the 30,000 residents on the British speck of land on Spain’s southern tip are only permitted to venture out for work, exercise, medical appointments or to buy essential items. Gibraltar authorities have reported more than 1,300 new cases during the last month, more than double from the levels in early December, and are investigating if the surge is linked to the new virus variant that has rapidly spread in Britain.

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—The Associated Press

Vaccination campaign picks up speed around the world

The campaign to vanquish the coronavirus is picking up speed, with Britain beginning to dispense the second vaccine in its arsenal Monday, and India, the world’s second-most populous country, authorizing its first shots.

In the U.S., meanwhile, government officials reported that vaccinations have accelerated markedly after a disappointingly slow start. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said over the weekend that 1.5 million shots were administered in 72 hours, bringing the total to about 4 million.

Britain on Monday became the first nation to start using the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, ramping up its nationwide inoculation campaign amid soaring infection rates blamed on a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the virus.

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—The Associated Press
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Greek Church tells priests to ignore pandemic closure order

Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church is rebelling against a government order to briefly close places of worship under a weeklong drive to tighten virus restrictions before the planned reopening of schools.

The conservative Church’s ruling body issued a statement Monday directing priests to admit worshippers during indoor services for Wednesday’s feast of the Epiphany. The Holy Synod said it “does not accept” the new restrictions, in force from Jan. 3-10, and would send a letter of protest to the center-right government.

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—The Associated Press

Israel is vaccinating so fast it’s running out of vaccine

Israel, which has inoculated a higher proportion of its population against the coronavirus than any other country, is delivering shots so quickly it is outstripping its supply of vaccine.

Health officials are scrambling to buy more doses and said they may pause giving the first round of shots to younger citizens to deliver the second, final injections to the elderly.

The situation is essentially opposite of that in many parts of the United States, where vaccines are sitting unused as mass inoculation programs struggle to build momentum.

Medical workers vaccinate medical stuff members against Coronavirus disease(COVID-19) at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center as Israel starts the COVID 19 vaccination campaign on December 20, 2020 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Israel, which has inoculated a higher proportion of its population against the coronavirus than any other country, is delivering shots so quickly it is outstripping its supply of vaccine. (Photographer: Amir Levy/Getty Images Europe)
Medical workers vaccinate medical stuff members against Coronavirus disease(COVID-19) at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center as Israel starts the COVID 19 vaccination campaign on December 20, 2020 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Israel, which has inoculated a higher proportion of its population against the coronavirus than any other country, is delivering shots so quickly it is outstripping its supply of vaccine. (Photographer: Amir Levy/Getty Images Europe)

The U.S. vaccination rate is around 1 percent. Israel, with a much smaller population and socialized health care, has reached 12 percent of its residents with the initial dose. Since rolling out the campaign on Dec. 20, Israel has repeatedly surpassed its goal of 150,000 vaccinations a day.

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—The Washington Post

As post-holiday infections surge, Lebanon gears for lockdown

A Lebanese woman wears a protective mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus, as she celebrates the New Year outside a pub, in Beirut, Lebanon, early Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Lebanon ended the year with more than 3,500 newly registered infections of coronavirus and 12 new deaths as its health minister appealed to Lebanese to take precautions while celebrating to avoid what he called wasting sacrifices made in combatting the virus. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A Lebanese woman wears a protective mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus, as she celebrates the New Year outside a pub, in Beirut, Lebanon, early Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Lebanon ended the year with more than 3,500 newly registered infections of coronavirus and 12 new deaths as its health minister appealed to Lebanese to take precautions while celebrating to avoid what he called wasting sacrifices made in combatting the virus. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Lebanon is gearing up for a new nationwide lockdown, as officials vowed Monday to take stricter measures against the coronavirus following the holiday season, which saw a large increase in infections and caused jitters in the country’s already-battered health sector.

First responders say they have been transporting nearly 100 patients a day while hospitals report near-full occupancy in beds and ICUs.

Nurses say they are overwhelmed, and private hospitals have been roped into the national response despite complaints that the cash-strapped government owes them large sums of outstanding debt.

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—The Associated Press
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South Africa testing whether vaccines work against variant

Scientists in South Africa are urgently testing to see if the vaccines for COVID-19 will be effective against the country’s variant virus.

People pass a sign at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, indicating a COVID testing station Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A new, more transmissible variant of the virus has swept South Africa causing an enormous spike of new cases and deaths that far surpasses previous waves of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht)
People pass a sign at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, indicating a COVID testing station Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A new, more transmissible variant of the virus has swept South Africa causing an enormous spike of new cases and deaths that far surpasses previous waves of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht)

The genomic studies come as Britain’s health minister, Matt Hancock, and other experts in the U.K. have said they worry that vaccines may not be effective against the South African variant.

“This is the most pressing question facing us right now,” said Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases expert who is working on the country’s genomic studies of the variant.

“We are urgently doing experiments in the laboratory to test the variant,” against the blood of people with antibodies and against the blood of people who have received vaccines, Lessells told The Associated Press Monday.

The tests, called neutralizing assays, will help determine the reliability of vaccines against the variant, he said.

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—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

U.S. officials are debating whether to give half-doses of Moderna’s vaccine to lend more people some immunity as the rollout hits bumps. It's among the new vaccination tactics that scientists are weighing. 

A Christmas-tree costume is likely to blame for an outbreak that killed one person and infected 43 others at a California hospital, officials say.

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

Conservatives are pushing back on Washington’s COVID-19 restrictions with protests and legislation, including an effort to curb Gov. Jay Inslee's emergency powers.

No, it’s not weird to talk to yourself more these days. It can be good self-care, actually. But mental health experts, pointing to the pandemic and unrest as possible reasons, offer advice on listening carefully to what you're saying.

Meanwhile, one country is vaccinating so fast that it's running out of shots.

—Kris Higginson

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