Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, January 5, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

As the United States sets records for daily reported COVID-19 cases and states face testing shortages, President Joe Biden urged concern, not alarm. Biden said the current situation “bears little resemblance” to the early stage pandemic or last year’s deadly winter.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should receive a booster five months after the second dose of the vaccine, a revision from the 6-month wait previously recommended.

Additionally, the agency also recommended that immunocompromised children between 5 and 11 receive an additional primary vaccine shot 28 days after they received their second dose. The CDC will meet Wednesday to discuss whether it will recommend booster shots to minors who are 12 through 15 years old.

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.

Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Navigating the pandemic

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For CDC’s Walensky, a steep learning curve on messaging

Two days before Christmas, with the omicron variant driving a near-vertical rise in new coronavirus cases, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted the White House that she planned to recommend that people infected with the virus isolate for five days instead of 10.

The director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, had faced previous criticism for issuing recommendations that confused the public and in some cases caught the White House off guard. Determined to avoid that this time, she briefed other top Biden health officials on her proposal so they would all be on the same page, according to two people familiar with her actions.

It did not work out that way. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, were concerned that the new guidance did not urge people to get a negative COVID test before ending their isolation. After the new recommendation became public, they both took issue with it on national television, saying they expected the CDC to clarify its advice.

On Wednesday, nine days after the guidance was issued and a day after it was slightly modified to include some advice on testing, the CDC was still having a hard time explaining itself. “How do you expect people to keep track of what they can and can’t do?” a CNN reporter demanded of Walensky at a White House briefing.

Read the full story here.

—Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, The New York Times
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US advisers endorse Pfizer COVID boosters for younger teens

Influential government advisers are strongly urging that teens as young as 12 get COVID-19 boosters as soon as they’re eligible, a key move as the U.S. battles the omicron surge and schools struggle with how to restart classes amid the spike.

All Americans 16 and older are encouraged to get a booster, which health authorities say offers the best chance at avoiding the highly contagious omicron variant. Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized an extra Pfizer shot for kids ages 12 to 15 as well — but that wasn’t the final hurdle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes recommendations for vaccinations and on Wednesday, its advisers voted that a booster was safe for the younger teens and should be offered to them once enough time — five months — has passed since their last shot. And while the CDC last month opened boosters as an option for 16- and 17-year-olds, the panel said that recommendation should be strengthened to say they “should” get the extra dose.

Read the full story here.

—Lauran Neergaard and Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

Inslee: Washington state to distribute millions of at-home COVID tests, masks amid omicron surge

Washington state will begin distributing millions of at-home coronavirus tests and masks and will expand vaccination clinics in an effort to blunt the wave of omicron cases, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday.

The state is in possession of 800,000 at-home tests and expects at least 4.7 million more to arrive next week, which state health officials have purchased from vendors, according to the governor’s office.

Those come on top of the 400,000 tests to be purchased by King County, which county officials announced earlier on Wednesday. And the numbers announced by Inslee are in addition to any that might come from the federal government, according to the governor’s office.

Read the full story here.

Sundance cancels in-person film festival due to virus surge

Just two weeks before it was to be held in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival is canceling its in-person festival and reverting to an entirely virtual edition due to the current coronavirus surge.

Festival organizers announced Wednesday that the festival will start as scheduled on Jan. 20 but will shift online. The festival had been planned as a hybrid, with screenings both in Park City and online. Last year’s Sundance was also held virtually because of the pandemic.

“This was a difficult decision to make,” the festival said in a statement. “As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds. But with case numbers forecasted to peak in our host community the week of the festival we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk. The undue stress to Summit County’s health services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate.”

The cancellation of an in-person Sundance is a huge blow to an independent film industry that has struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Last year’s virtual Sundance, where films like “Summer of Soul (or The Revolution Will Not Be Televised)” and “CODA” made a splash, proved that a digital festival can still foster breakout hits. But filmmakers, executives, audiences and journalists had held out hope that Sundance — the premier American film festival and a launchpad for young filmmakers — could again kick off a new movie year with packed premieres in the Utah mountains.

Read the story here.

—Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
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Man attacks workers at Calif. COVID-19 vaccine clinic, calling them ‘murderers’

One of Parsia Jahanbani’s biggest fears was realized when a man calling health care workers “murderers” attacked him and other staff members outside a mobile vaccine clinic in Tustin, California, last week, he said.

After a security guard asked the man to wear a mask, he became increasingly angry — claiming medical workers were complicit in a COVID-19 hoax and that “he was ‘not a sheep'” — said Jahanbani, the mobile operations manager for Families Together of Orange County, where the clinic was operating in the parking lot Dec. 30.

Read the full story here.

—Lila Seidman, Los Angeles Times

State health officials confirm 11,325 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 11,325 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 899,036 cases and 9,909 deaths, meaning that 1.1% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on weekends.

Due to a technical issue and incomplete, no new deaths were reported, DOH said on Wednesday.

In addition, 46,528 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 191 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 217,485 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,151 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 12,024,466 doses and 62.8% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 19,125 vaccine shots per day.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Amanda Zhou

Grammys postpone ceremony, citing omicron variant risks

The Grammy Awards were postponed Wednesday weeks before the planned Los Angeles ceremony over what organizers called “too many risks” from the omicron variant, signaling what could be the start of another year of pandemic upheaval for awards season.

The attempt at a back-to-normal show had been scheduled for Jan. 31st at the newly renamed Crypto.com Arena with a live audience and performances, but no new date is on the books. The Recording Academy said it made the decision to postpone the ceremony “after careful consideration and analysis with city and state officials, health and safety experts, the artist community and our many partners.

“Given the uncertainty surrounding the omicron variant, holding the show on January 31st simply contains too many risks,” the academy said in a statement.

Last year, like most major awards shows in early 2021, the Grammys were postponed due to coronavirus concerns.

Read the story here.

—Andrew Dalton,
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US advisers debate Pfizer boosters for younger teens

An influential government advisory panel is considering COVID-19 boosters for younger teens, as the U.S. battles the omicron surge and schools struggle with how to restart classes amid the spike.

Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older. Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized an extra Pfizer shot for kids ages 12 to 15 as well — but that wasn’t the final hurdle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes recommendations for vaccinations and its advisers on Wednesday are debating whether younger teens should get one as soon as they’re eligible or if it’s just an option for those who want it. The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, will weigh the panel’s advice before making a final decision soon.

Read the story here.

—Lauran Neergaard and Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

US hospitals seeing different kind of COVID surge this time

Hospitals across the U.S. are feeling the wrath of the omicron variant and getting thrown into disarray that is different from earlier COVID-19 surges.

This time, they are dealing with serious staff shortages because so many health care workers are getting sick with the fast-spreading variant. People are showing up at emergency rooms in large numbers in hopes of getting tested for COVID-19, putting more strain on the system. And a surprising share of patients — two-thirds in some places — are testing positive while in the hospital for other reasons.

At the same time, hospitals say the patients aren’t as sick as those who came in during the last surge. Intensive care units aren’t as full, and ventilators aren’t needed as much as they were before.

The pressures are neverthless prompting hospitals to scale back non-emergency surgeries and close wards, while National Guard troops have been sent in in several states to help at medical centers and testing sites.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

‘Flurona?’ It’s coronavirus and influenza at same time; here’s what we know

New year, new coronavirus term?

Many people around the world kicked off 2022 by searching for more information about “flurona,” after Israel reported that two young pregnant women had tested positive for both the coronavirus and the flu.

Doctors have long been concerned about the potential impact of a “twindemic” — with influenza cases rising as COVID-19 cases threaten to overwhelm hospitals — and called on people to get flu shots and coronavirus vaccinations.

On the other hand, “flurona” refers to when one person has both respiratory infections at the same time — which health officials say is a possibility as cases of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus surge this winter across the world.

Read the story here.

—Jennifer Hassan, The Washington Post
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Anti-vaccination protesters attack Guadeloupe hospital staff

Dozens of anti-vaccination protesters in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe attacked a hospital director and other medical staff following recent violent demonstrations against vaccines and COVID-19 restrictions, officials said Wednesday.

The attack occurred Tuesday outside the University Hospital Center as police tried to escort the director and other staff elsewhere for safety. The hospital said the director briefly lost consciousness and that the crowd ripped the clothes of the deputy general director and threw urine at both. The car of an executive assistant also was seriously damaged, officials said.

A health workers’ union that organized Tuesday’s demonstration and previous ones that turned violent to protest vaccine requirements and other measures told local media that members are seeking to recover lost wages after being suspended for refusing to become vaccinated as required by law.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

France allows some COVID-19-infected medics to keep working

France is allowing health care workers who are infected with the coronavirus but have few or no symptoms to keep treating patients rather than self-isolate, an extraordinary stopgap measure aimed at easing staff shortages at hospitals and other facilities caused by an unprecedented explosion in cases.

The special exemption to France’s quarantine rules being rolled out to hospitals, elderly care homes, doctors’ offices and other essential health services testifies to the growing strain on the French medical system by the fast-spreading omicron variant.

It is a calculated risk, with the possibility that health care workers with COVID-19 could infect colleagues and patients being weighed against what the government says is a need to keep essential services running.

Read the story here.

—John Leicester, The Associated Press

Tales of anguish emerge from China’s locked-down Xi’an as hospitals demand patients are covid-free

On the first day of 2022, outside Xi'an Gaoxin Hospital, in the middle of China’s worst coronavirus outbreak since Wuhan, a woman eight months pregnant miscarried after being refused care until she had tested negative for the virus.

After feeling pain in her belly, the woman called an ambulance, according to an account from her niece posted Tuesday evening on the microblog Weibo. Without a negative coronavirus test, she had to wait outside emergency care for two hours until staffers relented when they saw that she was bleeding heavily.

But by then, the woman had miscarried, said the post from her niece, which was deleted after gaining nearly 6 million views. Neither woman was identified, and The Washington Post was unable to independently confirm details of the account. An employee of the hospital’s quality-of-care department who answered the phone Wednesday said the matter has been investigated and that an official statement would be released soon.

The reported tragedy has tapped into mounting anguish and disbelief about dysfunction in Xian, the central Chinese city of 13 million that has imposed China’s strictest all-resident lockdown since Wuhan two years ago. Nearly 1,800 symptomatic infections have been confirmed in the city after the local government ordered mass testing and centralized quarantine to halt spread of the virus.

As the rest of the world has become resigned to strategies of mitigating the virus, China has stuck fast to a policy of attempting to completely cut off transmission as soon as new outbreaks emerge, an approach it calls “dynamic zero covid.”

Read the story here.

—Christian Shepherd, The Washington Post
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Consider swabbing your nose — and throat — for rapid COVID tests, some experts say

The omicron coronavirus variant is forcing health experts and the public alike to question everything they thought they knew about COVID-19, including how to properly take at-home rapid tests to ensure an accurate result.

All rapid tests authorized for emergency use in the U.S. require a sturdy swab of your nasal cavity, though not deep enough to tickle your brain like early PCR tests.

However, a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests you may want to throw in a throat sample, too.

Read the story here.

—Katie Camero, McClatchy Washington Bureau

Sweden: Health officials advise expanded use of vaccine pass

Sweden’s public health authorities on Wednesday advised restaurants, cultural venues and leisure centers to ask their customers to show digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination starting next week.

The recommendation from the Swedish Public Health Agency isn’t a legal requirement but voluntary guidance for businesses. Sweden’s digital certificates only show vaccination status — not proof of a negative test or recent recovery from COVID-19.

As of Jan. 12, locations can introduce certificates as entry requirements “in more activities where the risk of spreading of the infection is great,” Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said.

Besides restaurants, they include cultural venues such as museums and theaters, leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools, and long-distance public transportation, the government said in a statement.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Chicago cancels classes after union backs remote learning

Leaders of Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday after the teachers union voted to switch to remote learning due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, the latest development in an escalating battle over pandemic safety protocols in the nation’s third-largest school district.

Chicago has rejected a districtwide return to remote instruction, saying it was disastrous for children’s learning and mental health, and the status of instruction for the rest of the week was in limbo. The union argued the district’s safety protocols are lacking and both teachers and students are vulnerable.

Students in the roughly 350,000-student district had returned to class Monday in Chicago after a two-week winter break with COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations fueled by the omicron variant at record levels. School districts nationwide have grappled with the same issue, with most opting to stay open while ramping up virus testing, tweaking protocols and making other real-time adjustments in response to the shifting pandemic.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said the union planned to meet Wednesday afternoon with district officials. But he said teachers don’t want to return to in-person instruction until the current omicron-driven surge has subsided.

Read the story here.

—Sophia Tareen, The Associated Press
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China reports major drop in virus cases in locked-down Xi’an

China on Wednesday reported a major drop in COVID-19 infections in the northern city of Xi’an, which has been under a tight lockdown for the past two weeks that has sharply disrupted the lives of its 13 million residents.

The National Health Commission announced just 35 new cases in Xi’an, home to the famed Terracotta Warriors statues along with major industries, down from 95 the day before.

Health officials said they have basically achieved the goal of halting community transmission because the new cases were among people already quarantined.

The decline has continued since daily new cases topped 100, which had prompted officials to retain and in some cases tighten restrictions on people leaving their homes.

Read the story here.

—Huizhong Wu, The Associated Press

Some GOP leaders are scornful or silent about booster shots seen as key to fighting omicron

As coronavirus cases surged in Florida last summer, Gov. Ron DeSantis urged people to get vaccinated.

“If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals … over 95% of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all,” he said at a news conference. “These vaccines are saving lives.”

Last month the governor struck a different tone when asked on Fox News if he has received a vaccine booster shot — which health officials call one of the public’s most important tools against the omicron variant fueling a new wave of infections.

“So, I’ve done whatever I did,” said the GOP star considered a potential contender for the presidency in 2024. “The — the normal shot, and that at the end of the day is people’s individual decisions about what they want to do.”

The push for widespread booster shots to protect against omicron has highlighted the United States’ persistent partisan divides over vaccination, with some Republican leaders silent on the issue and some disparaging shots anew as the meaning of “fully vaccinated” evolves along with the coronavirus.

Read the story here.

—Hannah Knowles and Lateshia Beachum, The Washington Post

New COVID variant ‘IHU’ with 46 mutations detected in France

Experts are keeping a wary eye on yet another COVID-19 variant, this one with 46 mutations.

It was detected in France and showed up in a traveler who recently arrived from a three-day stay in Cameroon, French researchers said in a preprint study published on medRxiv, which means it has not yet been peer-reviewed.

While researchers were monitoring the strain to ascertain how infectious it is or whether it poses a danger, experts emphasized that its discovery alone was not cause for alarm. Moreover, it was noted even before omicron took over the world stage and “has been on our radar,” WHO incident manager on COVID Abdi Mahamud said at a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, according to Bloomberg. “That virus had a lot of chances to pick up.”

So far, indications are that it hasn’t. But it did manage to infect 12 people in Marseille, in southeastern France.

The 46 mutations had not been detected in other countries, The Independent noted.

Read the story here.

—Theresa Braine, New York Daily News
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A paramedic stole coronavirus vaccine cards from his workplace, then sold them to unvaccinated buyers, feds say

The illegal sale of coronavirus vaccination cards began as a simple operation out of David Hodges’s home in Lewes, Del., federal prosecutors said.

Last February, Hodges, a paramedic who worked at a coronavirus vaccination site, started printing blank vaccine cards he found online, a complaint states.

But by the time investigators discovered the scheme months later, prosecutors said the operation had become more sophisticated. Hodges had taken blank vaccination cards from his workplace, according to the complaint, and pocketed nearly $1,300 after selling an unspecified number of the documents.

Hodges is among the latest defendants charged with selling coronavirus vaccine cards as some attempt to evade immunization requirements. Since vaccines became widely available in the United States, federal authorities have charged a pharmacist, a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital nurse, a bar owner and state troopers, among others, with selling or forging the immunization records now required to fly to some destinations or enter certain public spaces and businesses.

Read the story here.

—Andrea Salcedo, The Washington Post

Macron under fire after arguing France should make life miserable for unvaccinated

President Emmanuel Macron of France drew fierce criticism on Wednesday after bluntly arguing that the government should make life miserable for the unvaccinated, as skyrocketing infection rates have put him under pressure to rein in the coronavirus pandemic ahead of a key presidential election.

“I really want to (…) off the unvaccinated,” Macron said in an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien. “And so we are going to continue doing that, until the end.”

Macron said that those who had refused coronavirus vaccines were part of a small minority. About three-quarters of France’s 67 million people are fully vaccinated, but roughly 5 million French people have not received a single shot.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

Hong Kong bans flights, imposes other COVID-19 restrictions

Hong Kong authorities announced a two-week ban on flights from the United States and seven other countries and held 2,500 passengers on a cruise ship for coronavirus testing Wednesday as the city attempted to stem an emerging omicron outbreak.

The two-week ban on passenger flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States will take effect Sunday and continue until Jan. 21.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam also announced that restaurant dining will be forbidden after 6 p.m. for two weeks starting Friday. Game arcades, bars and beauty salons must also close during that period.

Read the story here.

—Zen Soo, The Associated Press
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

Consider swabbing your throat along with your nose for rapid COVID-19 tests, some experts say as omicron forces them to rethink what they thought they knew. A video shows how.

How much attention should you pay to skyrocketing daily case counts? They serve a purpose, but some researchers say hospitalizations are the more useful measure now.

It's too soon to panic about a new COVID-19 variant called IHU, scientists say. Here's what you should know about the strain that's popped up in France.

About 4% of the Seattle students and staff who participated in the district’s rapid testing clinics tested positive, an official says. That works out to more than 500 people. Additional testing options are ahead.

A woman reportedly miscarried after she was denied care until she tested negative for the virus. That's among the tales of anguish emerging from the Chinese city of Xi'an, where an unyielding lockdown is apparently preventing infections — at a steep human cost.

The CDC caused consternation and dismay by recommending shorter isolation and quarantine periods. Now it's explaining what's behind the new guidance.

—Kris Higginson