Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, January 7, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
A record 9.5 million COVID-19 cases were reported last week, marking a 71% increase in confirmed cases, as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads, the World Health Organization said Thursday. Despite the increase in reported cases, the number of deaths last week decreased from the previous week.
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 U.S. flights were canceled on Thursday alone due to bad weather and staffing shortages caused by coronavirus infections. At the same time, Alaska Airlines announced it would cut the number of flights by 10% through the end of the month as it deals with staffing issues.
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.
Seattle Symphony concert cancelled over COVID-19
Just before the doors were to open for an 8 p.m. concert Saturday, the Seattle Symphony canceled its show by composer and conductor John Adams, citing concern over COVID-19.
Customers will be able to refund or exchange their tickets for the show, which was to feature music inspired by mid-20th Century movies.
Symphony officials didn't elaborate about the situation in online announcements Saturday night, while the new Omicron variant rapidly spreads through the state. Read the story here.
The week in fake news: A look at social media tales that flunk the truth test
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
Fake vaccine quote circulates after Betty White’s death
Claim: Betty White told a news outlet she received a COVID-19 vaccine booster on Dec. 28, three days before her death, saying: “Eat healthy and get all your vaccines. I just got boosted today.”
The facts: The quote is fabricated. White did not receive a booster that day, her agent confirmed to The Associated Press.
The news article cited by social media users does not contain the bogus quote or anything about vaccines.
EXPLAINER: Where are the COVID-19 tests that Biden promised?
President Joe Biden announced last month that the federal government will buy half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits and distribute them free to people to use at home. But despite high public demand for tests, it will still be several more weeks before these kits are available to be shipped, White House officials said.
DOES THE GOVERNMENT HAVE THE TESTS?
Not yet. This week marked the close of an initial bidding period for test manufacturers to apply to the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services for contracts to make the tests. The first contract, worth $51.6 million, was awarded Thursday and a second for 13.3 million tests was assigned Friday. Additional contracts will be signed in the coming weeks, officials said. All 500 million kits will not arrive at the same time. They will be delivered in batches over months.
WHEN WILL THE TEST KITS BE DELIVERED?
Data shortfall impairs Brazil’s tracking of spreading virus
As the omicron variant sends COVID-19 cases soaring across much of the globe, one of the countries most devastated by the disease since the pandemic’s onset is struggling to keep track of new cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
Officials at Brazil’s Health Ministry are still trying to recover from hacker attacks on its system between Dec. 10 and Dec. 13, and researchers say the data remains incomplete and often hard to access. States and municipalities are reporting problems uploading information to the ministry’s platforms, and web pages visible to the public have often been knocked offline.
The information shortage couldn’t come at a worse time: Cases of COVID-19 appear to be surging along with a particularly strong outbreak of influenza featuring similar symptoms. The resulting confusion has prompted lines at pharmacies in search of tests and reports of long waits at health clinics.
Marcelo Gomes, a public health researcher at Fiocruz, a major state-run research institution, relies on the Health Ministry’s database to coordinate the Infogripe bulletins that track severe respiratory illness in the country.
“We are blind,” Gomes told The Associated Press. “You need a scenario of an entire municipality, an entire state, to be able to identify the situation adequately.”
While the Health Ministry reported 53,292 cases of COVID-19 in the week of December 27 to January 2, a national pharmacy association said its 8,500 branches alone registered 94,540 positive tests in its network over the same period — a 33% jump from the previous week.
More than plots on a chart: The 10,000 lost to COVID in Washington state
The number of Washingtonians lost to COVID-19 is still hard to comprehend. At the beginning of the pandemic, when the Seattle area was briefly the U.S.’ sole epicenter, each death was its own headline. Rarely now do individual names of those who died of COVID make it into news reports.
But the victims, and their cause of death, are in paid obituaries, in eulogies at funerals that this year could finally resume, sometimes in hushed tones among family members detailing their loved ones’ choices — Did they get vaccinated? Were they being safe? — before their death.
Numbers creep up day by day, the personal losses lost among the lines of a chart.
On Dec. 7, 2020, the Washington State Department of Health reported 69 deaths across the state. Among them: Gayle Cortner, 79, of Spokane, who died a few days short of her 51st wedding anniversary; Paul Viggiano, 67, of Richland, named the 1999 distinguished United Way volunteer of the year; and Thomas Sudduth, 64, who was the first person to die of COVID on Vashon Island.
More than 10,000 Washingtonians have now died from COVID-19
More than 10,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Washington state, a tragic milestone as the region battles yet another wave of infections and hospitalizations, health officials reported Friday.
The state Department of Health confirmed in its daily update of virus trends there have been 10,004 COVID deaths, along with 931,071 infections and 47,062 hospitalizations, since the start of the pandemic. The new total means the death rate is about 1.1% of those confirmed to have been infected in the state.
In King County, the state’s most populous, 2,197 people have died from the virus. The county’s COVID-19 data dashboard reports 33 deaths in the past two weeks, compared to 17 during the prior two weeks, but county health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said Friday afternoon the county is still waiting to see how death trends might be affected by the recent rise in infections from the coronavirus’s omicron variant. On average, King County is reporting about two COVID deaths per day.
As infections hit record-breaking numbers every week, COVID predictions remain largely uncertain. Hospitalizations in King County are up about fivefold since mid-December, straining already overburdened hospitals — though a peak of infections could be nearing later this month, Duchin said.
Thailand tightens entry requirements due to omicron spread
Thailand announced Friday it is tightening some entry restrictions while expanding its “sandbox” quarantine program, and urged people to follow social distancing and mask rules to control the spread of COVID-19 fueled by the omicron variant.
The government did not announce any lockdown, but issued restrictions on alcohol consumption in restaurants. It also called on people to avoid public gatherings, public transportation and travel around the country. Most schools will stay open, while bars and nightclubs will remain closed.
The decision came after reported daily coronavirus cases doubled to 7,526 in a matter of days following the new year’s holiday, mostly because of the omicron variant. Nineteen new deaths were recorded, the government said.
State health officials confirm 17,211 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 17,211 new coronavirus cases, a new daily record, and 30 new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 931,071 cases and 10,004 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. Thursday.
Due to a technical issue the total case count may include up to 1,600 duplicates, DOH said on Friday.
In addition, 47,062 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 310 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 228,166 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,161 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 12,091,267 doses and 62.9% 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 18,332 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.
Germany to toughen restaurant rules, cut COVID quarantine
Germany’s leaders agreed Friday to toughen requirements for entry to restaurants and bars, and decided to shorten quarantine and self-isolation periods as the omicron variant spreads fast through the country.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the 16 state governors built on restrictions introduced just after Christmas that limited private gatherings to 10 people and effectively shut nightclubs.
People have already been required for some time to show proof of full vaccination or recovery to enter restaurants and bars — as well as many nonessential shops, theaters and cinemas.
Friday’s decision calls for the requirements to be ratcheted up for restaurants and bars. Customers will have to show either that they have received a booster shot or provide a negative test result on top of proof that they have been vaccinated or recovered.
As omicron spreads, Europe scrambles to shore up health care
Troops have been deployed to London hospitals. Health care workers infected with COVID-19 are treating patients in France. The Netherlands is under a lockdown, and tented field hospitals have gone up in Sicily.
Nations across Europe are scrambling to prop up health systems strained by staff shortages blamed on the new, highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is sending a wave of infections crashing over the continent.
The World Health Organization said Thursday that a record 9.5 million COVID-19 cases were tallied globally over the last week, a 71% increase from the previous 7-day period. However, the number of weekly recorded deaths declined.
Mother charged after son found in trunk at COVID test site
A Houston mother was charged after authorities allege she placed her 13-year-old son in the trunk of her car in an attempt to isolate him after he had tested positive for COVID-19 and then took him to a drive-thru testing site.
The 41-year-old is charged with endangering a child. Authorities allege her son was found on Monday in her car’s trunk at a testing site for the Cypress-Fairbanks school district in northwest Houston. The woman is a teacher with the district, which said in a statement that the child was not harmed.
The charge was filed Wednesday but not made public until Friday.
The school district’s director of health services, Bevin Gordon, was gathering information from vehicles that were in line for COVID-19 testing at a district stadium on Monday when she discovered that the 13-year-old was in the trunk of a car, according to a court document.
“(The mother) stated that she put (her son) inside the trunk to prevent her from getting exposed to possible COVID while driving (him) to the stadium for additional testing,” according to the court document.
Gordon later called the school district’s police department.
Chicago nixes school for 3rd day as virus, union debate rage
Leaders of the nation’s third-largest school district canceled classes for a third consecutive day as heated negotiations continued with the Chicago Teachers Union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety measures.
The union, which voted this week to revert to online instruction, told teachers not to show up to schools starting Wednesday during the latest COVID-19 surge while both sides negotiate. The move just two days after students returned from winter break prompted district officials to cancel classes each day for students in the roughly 350,000-student district during negotiations, saying there’s no plan to return to districtwide remote instruction.
School districts nationwide have confronted the same pandemic issues, with most opting to stay open while ramping up virus testing, tweaking protocols and other adjustments in response to the shifting pandemic. But a growing number of U.S. districts, including some large school systems, have gone back to remote learning as infections soar and sideline staff members.
‘Your local school district may need to close’ temporarily, Washington state superintendent warns
Between omicron, school staff shortages and chaotic winter weather, “Your local school district may need to close” temporarily over the next three or four weeks, Washington state schools superintendent Chris Reykdal said Friday.
Reykdal, who has been in lockstep with Gov. Jay Inslee about the need to keep schools open through all seasons of the pandemic, said that while state-mandated preventative measures still make schools among the safer public spaces, a lack of staff — caused either indirectly or directly by the virus — may force a district or individual school building to shut down.
Students and educators around the state returned to school buildings after a holiday break that saw COVID-19 cases skyrocket here and across the nation with the spread of the omicron variant, a reportedly milder strain of the virus for those who are vaccinated. In those who are unvaccinated, an infection can still result in serious illness. Seven or eight school districts and school buildings closed down this week as they buckled under the strain of multiple headwinds, Reykdal said.
Around 42% of students are fully vaccinated in Washington, Reykdal said during the press conference. Ninety percent of teachers are vaccinated.
Greece orders private doctors to cover hospital shortages
Greece’s government on Friday issued a civil mobilization order that will oblige some doctors in the private sector to support the state health service during a surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the omicron variant.
The emergency order will take effect next Wednesday, affecting doctors specialized in pathology, pulmonology and anesthesiology in four regions in northern Greece where state hospitals are suffering acute staffing shortages.
The omicron variant has been blamed by experts for a huge increase in infections ‒ which are up eight-fold since mid-December ‒ over the past 10 days which have hit record levels. The surge has not led to a significant increase in intensive care unit admissions but has pushed up daily general hospitalizations, adding pressure on the public health service, with many hospitals also struggling with staff coverage as more doctors and nurses get infected.
“A hurricane:” Virus storm sends test-makers into overdrive
As countless millions of people in Europe waste hours in lines for COVID-19 tests and scour their nasal passages with self-test kits at home, at the other end of the chain, workers are straining to meet the demand.
At NG Biotech, production lines are humming, spitting out freshly packaged tests every second or so. The French start-up is recruiting more hands so its workforce that has already expanded six-fold during the pandemic can manufacture night and day.
“It has been like a hurricane,” says Milovan Stankov-Pugès, co-founder and CEO of the test-kit manufacturer in western France’s Brittany region.
Some say politics at play in Djokovic detention in Australia
On the tennis court, Novak Djokovic’s timing is perfect. But when the No. 1 player boarded a plane for Australia to play the first Grand Slam of the year with a COVID-19 vaccine exemption, his timing hardly could have been worse.
While he was in the air, the game apparently shifted — and he was denied entry when he landed. Some are saying politics is at play in a country seeing a virus surge and debating how best to beat it back.
Australian officials initially said Djokovic, a vocal skeptic of vaccines who has refused to say if he got the COVID-19 shot, would be given an exemption to stringent vaccine rules by state authorities and be able to participate in the Australian Open.
But when he landed, his visa was canceled by federal border officials and he’s now in an immigration detention hotel while he fights the decision.
Djokovic’s refusal to discuss his vaccine status or explain why his health-based exemption had been granted didn’t sit well in Open host Melbourne, where 92% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated and where cases are rising.
Hong Kong orders about 170 party-goers to quarantine
Hong Kong authorities ordered about 170 people, including nine government officials and nearly 20 lawmakers, to be quarantined at a government facility on Friday after they attended a birthday party where two guests later tested positive for the coronavirus.
Fears of a new virus cluster were sparked when the two guests tested positive. On Friday, health authorities said all guests at the Jan. 3 party would be classified as close contacts and be sent to mandatory quarantine.
The city has been racing to control the omicron variant, with authorities locking down multiple residential buildings for mass testing and sending hundreds of people into quarantine.
How do I know if I have a cold, the flu or COVID-19?
How do I know if I have a cold, the flu or COVID-19?
Experts say testing is the best way to determine what you have since symptoms of the illnesses can overlap.
The viruses that cause colds, the flu and COVID-19 are spread the same way — through droplets from the nose and mouth of infected people. And they can all be spread before a person realizes they’re infected.
The time varies for when someone with any of the illnesses will start feeling sick. Some people infected with the coronavirus don’t experience any symptoms, but it’s still possible for them to spread it.
Cough, fever, tiredness and muscle aches are common to both the flu and COVID-19, says Kristen Coleman, as assistant research professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Symptoms specific to COVID-19 include the loss of taste or smell.
Common colds, meanwhile, tend to be milder with symptoms including a stuffy nose and sore throat. Fevers are more common with the flu.
Some virus restrictions back in Australia as omicron surges
Australia’s most populous state reinstated some restrictions and suspended elective surgeries on Friday as COVID-19 cases surged to another record.
New South Wales reported 38,625 new cases, prompting Premier Dominic Perrottet to announce regulations banning dancing and singing in pubs and nightclubs, and delaying non-urgent surgeries until mid-February.
Hospitalizations reached 1,738 in the state on Friday and health authorities warned that the number could spike to 4,700 or even 6,000 in a worst-case scenario within the next month. Hospitals already are under strain as around 3,800 medical professionals are in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.
Official: California COVID surge could ease next month
The California surge in coronavirus cases has shut down schools and sidelined thousands of police, firefighters, teachers and health care workers but officials are hoping it will be short-lived.
California’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has soared five-fold in two weeks and hospitalizations have doubled. LA County, the state’s largest with 10 million residents, reported more than 37,000 new cases on Thursday, which was the highest level since the pandemic started.
The jump is driven by the omicron variant, first detected in California in late November. Health officials say close contact during holiday gatherings, especially among unvaccinated people, has helped spread the highly infectious mutation.
But vaccinations and booster shots were protecting many people from severe illness, health officials said.
Hospitalizations skyrocket in U.S. kids too young for COVID shots
Hospitalizations of U.S. children under 5 with COVID-19 soared in recent weeks to the highest levels since the pandemic began, according to government data released Friday.
The worrisome trend in children too young to be vaccinated underscores the need for older kids and adults to get their shots to protect those around them, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since early December, as the highly contagious omicron variant has spread furiously around the country, the hospitalization rate in these youngest children has surged to more than 4 in 100,000 youngsters.
That compares with about 1 per 100,000 for kids ages 5 to 17, according to CDC data.
In omicron outbreak, US governors lose appetite for mandates
Governors took sweeping actions during earlier surges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many closed schools and ordered businesses shut down. They issued mask mandates, vaccine requirements and even quarantines in some places for people who had traveled to out-of-state hot spots.
Not this time, even as the exponential spread of the super-contagious omicron variant shatters COVID-19 infection records. While governors are sending help to hospitals, they are displaying little appetite for widespread public orders or shutdowns.
Even Democratic governors who passed strict mandates early on are now relying more on persuasion than dictates. They largely are leaving it up to local officials to make the tough calls on decisions such as whether to limit capacity in restaurants and theaters or keep schools open.
South Carolina set a record for positive tests over the New Year’s weekend and COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 67% from the week before. But Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, urged everyone to carry on as if everything’s fine. “If you get real sick, there will be room in the hospitals,” he promised this week.
FDA shortens timing of Moderna booster to 5 months
U.S. regulators on Friday shortened the time that people who received Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine have to wait for a booster — to five months rather than six.
The two-dose Moderna vaccine is open to Americans 18 and older. The Food and Drug Administration’s decision Friday means Moderna recipients are eligible for a booster after at least five months have passed since their last shot.
Families despair over post-holiday return to remote learning
Facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Detroit district this week joined a growing number of others in moving classes online after the winter break. The shift involving 50,000 students once again leaves parents juggling home and work schedules around the educational needs of their children.
The vast majority of U.S. districts appear to be returning to in-person learning, but other large school systems including those in Newark, New Jersey, Milwaukee and Cleveland have gone back to remote learning as infections soar and sideline staff members. Dozens of smaller districts have followed, including many around Detroit, Chicago and Washington.
The disruptions also raise alarms about risks to students. Long stretches of remote learning over the last two years have taken a toll, leaving many kids with academic and mental health setbacks that experts are still trying to understand.
Women’s periods may be late after coronavirus vaccination, study suggests
Shortly after coronavirus vaccines were rolled out about a year ago, women started reporting erratic menstrual cycles after receiving the shots.
Some said their periods were late. Others reported heavier bleeding than usual or painful bleeding. Some postmenopausal women who hadn’t had a period in years even said they had menstruated again.
A study published Thursday found that women’s menstrual cycles did indeed change after vaccination against the coronavirus. The authors reported that women who were inoculated had slightly longer menstrual cycles after receiving the vaccine than those who were not vaccinated.
Will ‘forever boosting’ beat the coronavirus?
A year ago, just two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine — or even one, in the case of Johnson & Johnson’s formulation — were thought to offer sufficient protection against the coronavirus.
Now, faced with the extraordinarily contagious omicron variant, Israel has begun offering fourth doses to some high-risk groups. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded eligibility for boosters to adolescents and backed away from describing anyone as “fully vaccinated” because two shots no longer seem adequate.
Instead, one’s vaccination status will now be “up to date” — or not. It’s no surprise that many Americans are wondering: Where does this end? Are we to roll up our sleeves for booster shots every few months?
Humbled repeatedly by a virus that has defied expectations, scientists are reluctant to predict the future. But in interviews this week, nearly a dozen said that whatever happens, trying to boost the entire population every few months is not realistic. Nor does it make much scientific sense.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates go before the Supreme Court today as justices consider two requirements that cover more than 80 million Americans. This Q&A outlines who will be affected and what's in play. Listen live when the hearing starts at 7 a.m., and find updates here.
Our state's hospitals are nearing a crisis point, and we're only at the start of the wave fueled by omicron, officials say. Washington's daily COVID-19 case total yesterday rocketed past the previous day's record.
The U.S. plans to ship 500 million test kits to households soon, according to people familiar with the plan. You'll be able to request the rapid tests online.
When you test, should you swab your throat in addition to your nose? Experts are split. It's worth reading their reasons and weighing the pros and cons.
Women’s periods may be late after vaccination, a new study suggests, supporting many anecdotal reports. But overall, the changes tracked by researchers were not significant and appeared to be transient.
Will we be forever boosting to beat the virus? That's not realistic, scientists say. They're explaining how other strategies could keep us out of the forever-boosting scenario. Meanwhile, Biden's frustrated former health advisers publicly outlined what they think a new normal of coexisting with the virus should look like.
Unmasked passengers filmed themselves partying on a plane, and now no airline will fly them home. Elsewhere, 125 adult passengers tested positive as a flight arrived in India — and there were only 160 on board. Things got tense.
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