Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Jan. 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
As state governors around the country scramble to speed up their vaccination efforts, Washington’s health secretary announced new vaccination tiers and an updated timeline Wednesday, confirming our state will next prioritize anyone 70 years and older, or anyone 50 and above who lives in a multigenerational household.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to research the mutant variant of the novel coronavirus first seen in Britain, and said Wednesday that it’s likely to be present in much of the United States.
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.
Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant
New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.
Those variants are causing global concern. They both share a common mutation called N501Y, a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus. That change is believed to be the reason they can spread so easily.
Most of the vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine’s ability to do so.
They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.
The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, a key step for medical research.
Senior IOC member says he’s not sure Tokyo Games will happen
TOKYO — A senior member of the International Olympic Committee has said he “can’t be certain” the postponed Tokyo Olympics will open in just over six months because of the surging pandemic in Japan and elsewhere.
The comments by Canadian IOC member Richard Pound to British broadcaster the BBC came as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency on Thursday for Tokyo and surrounding prefectures.
“I can’t be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus,“ Pound said speaking about the future of the Tokyo Games.
Japan’s emergency order, which is largely voluntary, will be in force until the first week of February.
FDA warns of false results from Curative coronavirus tests
The Food and Drug Administration warned patients and healthcare providers this week about the potential risks of false negative results, specifically with Curative’s COVID-19 test.
While no specific problems with the San Dimas-based company’s test were identified, the FDA did say the test must be performed in accordance with its labeling and should only be used in symptomatic people within 14 days of symptoms developing. Additionally, the FDA asks that people taking the self-administered test, be observed by a health care worker.
“When the test is not performed in accordance with its authorization or as described in the authorized labeling, there is a greater risk that the results of the test may not be accurate,” the FDA said in a safety alert Monday, Jan. 4.
False negatives can result in infected people unknowingly spreading the coronavirus and further delaying treatment, health officials warn.
Curative CEO Fred Turner said the company is aware of the FDA notice and is working to provide more information soon.
The city of Seattle announced a partnership with Curative in early December, and has since launched at least five of the company's testing kiosks in the city (Northgate Community Center in Northgate; Garfield Community Center in the Central District; Seattle Center in Lower Queen Anne; the Mount Baker light-rail station in Rainier Valley; and Lower Woodland Park near Green Lake).
‘Why am I not getting a job?’: Months of no work raise risks
The ranks of America’s long-term unemployed are swelling as the pandemic nears a full year, increasing the likelihood of lasting impacts on their finances, health and wages.
While 12.3 million jobs have come back since the pandemic low in April, nearly 4 million Americans have been out of work for at least 27 weeks. That’s considered the threshold for long-term unemployment and the group is at a seven-year high.
Many of them will need to rely on government aid for longer as a resurgent pandemic made 2020 a historically challenging year for job seekers.
Prolonged unemployment harms physical and mental well-being, traps workers in poverty and increases family stress, according to studies. The longer the spell of joblessness, the more difficult it becomes for workers to get reemployed, earn higher wages and prevent skills atrophy.
“It is a big deal already because we’re seeing over a third of the unemployed have now been long-term unemployed,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “That’s going to be continuing to rise.”
Australian city on lockdown over UK variant case
BRISBANE, Australia — Australia’s third-largest city, Brisbane, will lock down for three days from Friday after a cleaner at a quarantine hotel was diagnosed with the highly contagious British variant of COVID-19.
Masks will also become compulsory for the first time in Brisbane and some surrounding municipalities, the Queensland state government said.
“We know that that strain is 70% more infectious and we know the extreme difficulty that the U.K. has had in controlling their outbreak due to that strain,” Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said.
While several cases of the variant have been found in travelers in hotel quarantine, the cleaner is the first person to be infected with it in Australia.
Authorities believe the woman, aged in her 20s, was infectious from Jan. 2. She tested positive after showing symptoms on Wednesday.
COVID-19 outbreak at Renton homeless hotel claims one life
One person has died in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak at a hotel in Renton where more than 200 homeless are sheltered, according to a blog post from King County. A post-mortem coronavirus test indicated that the person was positive, according to the King County Medical Examiner.
There have only been four deaths of COVID-19 among people staying in shelters, according to a King County online dashboard: A spokesperson didn’t say by press time whether this death was the fourth or the fifth.
The Renton Red Lion experienced an outbreak of 35 cases last month among its homeless guests and housed staff, in the middle of a spike in cases at homeless shelters, housing facilities and day programs across the county. It’s the most seen since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic at any of the hotels the county is using to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 among homeless people.
Post-infection coronavirus immunity usually robust after 8 months, study shows
The human body typically retains a robust immune response to the coronavirus for at least eight months after an infection, and potentially much longer, researchers said in a study published in the journal Science. About 90% of the patients studied showed lingering, stable immunity, the study found.
The coronavirus has been shrouded in unknowns and uncertainties since it emerged a little more than a year ago, and one of the biggest questions has been whether people can get reinfected, and if so, how quickly. There have been isolated reports of people having a second case of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, but that appears to be rare, and the new study bolsters the case that immunity usually persists.
The review of blood samples from nearly 200 patients also saw that multiple elements of the immune system – not just antibodies – continued to be effective at recognizing and responding to the virus. The human body appears to retain a memory of the invader and is poised to generate a coordinated counterattack of antibodies and killer T cells quickly if exposed again.
This comes amid concerns about mutant variants of the coronavirus, including one originally identified in the United Kingdom and spreading rapidly there. As of Thursday afternoon it had been seen in seven states in the United States, including two new additions, Texas and Pennsylvania.
State reports 3,353 new COVID-19 cases, and 29 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,353 new coronavirus cases and 29 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 264,012 cases and 3,634 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. Wednesday.
In addition, 15,568 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 153 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 66,998 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,093 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.
Arthritis drugs reduced COVID-19 deaths, ICU time in study
A pair of arthritis medicines, including Roche Holding’s Actemra, reduced mortality and shortened recovery times in intensive care for COVID-19 patients in a study, opening the possibility for another treatment option for the severely ill.
Some 27% of critically ill patients who got the arthritis drugs in the study died in the hospital, compared with about 36% of those who didn’t get the drugs, an Imperial College London research team said. Patients who got the Roche drug or Kevzara, a similar medicine from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., were able to be released from the hospital an average of a week earlier, the study found. Released in preprint on Thursday, the results have not yet been peer reviewed.
The findings could have “immediate implications for the sickest patients with COVID-19,” Anthony Gordon, chair in anesthesia and critical care at Imperial, said in a statement. They apply to critically ill adult ICU patients who need help breathing, Gordon said.
The study also raised hopes in the U.K., which helped fund the research, that using the arthritis medicines will ease the strain as a surge of virus cases swamps its health system. The government will encourage the use of Actemra across the country immediately and is working with Roche to ensure the medicine is available to U.K. patients, the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement.
London’s field hospital to be used amid acute COVID pressure
LONDON — Britain’s National Health Service will from next week employ a little-used field hospital specially built at a huge exhibition center in east London in the early days of the pandemic last spring.
NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens said Thursday that the pressures facing hospitals in London and the southeast of England are so acute that the Nightingale hospital at the ExCel London will be opened next week to inpatients. A few hundred beds for non-COVID patients are expected to be available at first.
“The entirety of the health service in London is mobilizing to do everything it possibly can but the infections, the rate of growth in admissions, that is what collectively the country has got to get under control,” he said.
People without symptoms spread virus in more than half of cases, CDC model finds
People with no symptoms transmit more than half of all cases of the novel coronavirus, according to a new model developed by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Their findings reinforce the importance of following the agency’s guidelines: Regardless of whether people feel ill, they should wear a mask, wash their hands, stay socially distant and get a coronavirus test. That advice has been a constant refrain in a pandemic responsible for more than 350,000 deaths in the United States.
Fifty-nine percent of transmission came from people without symptoms in the model’s baseline scenario. That includes 35% of new cases from people who infect others before they show symptoms and 24% that come from people who never developed symptoms.
Puerto Rico to reopen beaches, relax coronavirus curfew
Puerto Rico’s new governor announced Tuesday that he will reopen beaches, marinas and pools, eliminate a Sunday lockdown and shorten a curfew that has been in place since the pandemic began to control the number of COVID-19 cases.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi stressed alcohol will be banned at beaches and other places, and that social distancing is required between people who are not family members, with no large groups allowed to gather. Meanwhile, the new curfew will run from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and face masks remain mandatory.
He said the new measures go into effect Jan. 8 and will be in place for 30 days but can be amended any time if there’s a spike in cases.
Remembering those we've lost to COVID-19
This many cases. That many deaths. More and more each day. If you don't know someone who's been sickened or killed by COVID-19, it can be easy to grow numb to these figures. But whole families and communities are grieving, and if we are to truly understand the toll this coronavirus has taken — and is taking — their stories need to be front and center. Each data point you hear about represents a human life whose loss is felt by countless other people.
South Africa buys 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine
South Africa says it will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country’s health workers. This is South Africa’s first announcement of the purchase of a COVID-19 vaccine as its cases soar.
The first 1 million doses will be delivered later this month from the Serum Institute of India, followed by an additional 500,000 doses in February, Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced Thursday.
South Africa is battling a dramatic resurgence of COVID-19 that is quickly outstripping its first peak. It announced record highs of 21,832 new confirmed cases and 844 deaths late Wednesday.
US registering highest deaths yet from the coronavirus
The U.S. registered more COVID-19 deaths in a single day than ever before — nearly 3,900 — on the very day the mob attack on the Capitol laid bare some of the same, deep political divisions that have hampered the battle against the pandemic.
The virus is surging in virtually every state, with California particularly hard hit. Skyrocketing deaths and infections there are threatening to force hospitals to ration care and essentially decide who lives and who dies.
“Folks are gasping for breath. Folks look like they’re drowning when they are in bed right in front of us,” said Dr. Jeffrey Chien, an emergency room physician at Santa Clara Valley Regional Medical Center, urging people to do their part to help slow the spread. “I’m begging everyone to help us out because we aren’t the front line. We’re the last line.”
About 1.9 million people around the world have died of the coronavirus, more than 360,000 in the U.S. alone. December was by far the nation’s deadliest month yet, and health experts are warning that January could be more terrible still because of family gatherings and travel over the holidays.
Brazilian study says Sinovac COVID-19 jab 78% effective
A vaccine candidate made by China’s Sinovac is 78% effective in protecting against COVID-19, according to results of a study announced Thursday by Brazilian state health officials seeking federal approval of the shot.
More than 12,000 health workers participated in the study, which detected 218 cases of COVID-19 — about 160 of those among people who received a placebo rather than the actual vaccine.
Turkish officials last month said that a smaller, companion study in that country of the same vaccine candidate found an efficacy rate of over 90%.
The government of Sao Paulo state, which has contracted for the vaccine, said it is asking Brazil’s federal health regulators for emergency approval to begin using it. Gov. João Doria plans to start a vaccination campaign for the state’s 46 million residents on Jan. 25.
The health agency said in a statement that it has not yet received full data on the study.
The researchers reported no serious side effects in the study.
The U.S. has required vaccine candidates to be tested in at least 30,000 people to determine safety and effectiveness.
Virus restrictions heightened in China province
Lockdown measures were being imposed in a northern Chinese province where coronavirus cases more than doubled in the region near Beijing that’s due to host some events in next year’s Winter Olympics.
Rail, air and highway connections to the Hebei capital of Shijiazhuang, a city of at least 10 million people, have been suspended and prevention and control measured tightened over urban communities and villages in the area. The National Health Commission on Thursday announced 51 new cases had been confirmed in Hebei province, bringing the total to 90 since Sunday.
Hebei is adjacent to Beijing, the host city of the 2022 Games, and some of the Olympic events are scheduled to be held in Shijiazhuang.
Wary of a new wave of infections, China is discouraging travel over next month’s Lunar New Year holiday and beginning school holidays a week early.
Without urgent changes in behavior, LA County will lose its coronavirus battle, officials say
Worried Los Angeles County health leaders said Wednesday that the region was rapidly losing its battle against COVID-19 as the virus spread unchecked, adding that only immediate and decisive changes in behavior can prevent a steep rise in deaths as a post-holiday surge hits and hospitals can’t treat all who are sick.
“Today, I’m more troubled than ever before,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
“This is a health crisis of epic proportions and we need everyone — I mean everyone — to use the tools right in front of them to help us drive down transmission of this deadly virus.”
Southern California and much of the state are under a stay-at-home order, which officials believe has made a difference but was no match for holiday travel, gatherings and social events.
Ferrer and others said they believe the virus is spreading in workplaces, then in communities as families gather, especially in neighborhoods with multigenerational families living under one roof.
Quarantine corner: Diversions to get you through the day
If you’re missing movie theater popcorn, heads up: Our food critic figured out how to make it exactly right at home. And it’s perfection when paired with The Rock, our Dinner at a Movie duo found.
Escape into a game show: Seattle’s Ken Jennings and fellow “Jeopardy!” stars are back tonight, but this time they're joining forces on a different quiz show.
How are those resolutions going? Five new books offer inspiration in ways both fun and diverse.
California hospitals prepping for grim COVID-19 choices
California hospitals struggling with a skyrocketing coronavirus surge are trying to prepare for the possibility that they may have to ration care for lack of staff and beds — and hoping they don’t have to make that choice.
The state avoided surging cases for months, but now the virus is raging out of control there and across the nation in the wake of Thanksgiving holiday gatherings that authorities say vastly spread infections. Only Arizona tops California in cases per resident.
At Los Angeles County, Methodist Hospital of Southern California, guidelines posted on the hospital’s website warn: “If a patient becomes extremely ill and very unlikely to survive their illness (even with life-saving treatment), then certain resources … may be allocated to another patient who is more likely to survive.”
Surge in Arizona, world ‘hot spot,’ puts focus on governor
As Arizona experienced periodic spikes in COVID-19 cases since last spring, Gov. Doug Ducey frequently resisted calls to take strong measures. He has declined to institute a statewide mask mandate, allowed school districts to mostly make their own choices and allowed businesses to stay open.
All of those choices by the Republican governor are now getting renewed scrutiny as the Grand Canyon state becomes what health officials call the latest “hot spot of the world” because of soaring case loads.
“We have a governor and health director who don’t care. Their goal in my opinion is to vaccinate their way out of this,” said Will Humble, head of the Arizona Public Health Association “Eventually it will work. There’s just going to be a lot of dead people in the meantime.”
Japan declares emergency for Tokyo area as cases spike
Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and three nearby areas on Thursday as coronavirus cases continue to surge following year-end and New Year’s holidays, hitting a daily record of 2,447 in the capital.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issued the declaration at the government task force for the coronavirus. It lasts from Friday until Feb. 7, and centers around asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and people to stay home and not mingle in crowds.
CDC expects U.S. spread of highly contagious virus strain
The mutant variant of the novel coronavirus first seen in Britain is likely to be present in much of the United States. Although the variant has so far been detected in a very small fraction of infections, it shows signs of spreading and may become significantly more common in coming weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and infectious-disease experts.
The cases so far have been mostly isolated: One in New York, one in Florida, one in Georgia and two in Colorado. The exception has been California, and specifically San Diego County, where a robust surveillance operation has so far found 32 cases of the variant. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told The Washington Post Wednesday: “I would be surprised if that doesn’t grow pretty rapidly.”
There is no evidence that the variant, which has recently been detected in more than 30 countries, carries a greater risk of severe disease or death. But the appearance of coronavirus variants, including another mutation-laden variant that has appeared in South Africa, presents a challenge for every country hoping to crush the pandemic.
Football season will start in February, says WIAA as it reorganizes sports calendar
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association revamped its high-school sports calendar again Wednesday as it continues to try to get sports on the field this academic year.
The WIAA’s Executive Board, made up of 13 school administrators from across the state, decided the traditional fall sports season can begin with practice Feb. 1. Those sports include football, girls soccer, volleyball, cross country and girls swimming and diving among others.
The fall season, which the WIAA is calling Season 1, is scheduled for seven weeks, ending on March 20. Winter sports and spring sports are still TBD.
Of course, any teams hitting the field next month will be contingent on the state’s guidance on coronavirus protocols.
The changes come after Gov. Jay Inslee announced new guidelines for the state on Tuesday, which use new metrics the WIAA will use for return to play.
A Quarantine Nightmare: Three Weeks in a Hotel, if You Can Find One
Before boarding her flight to Hong Kong for a new job last month, Tanja Cunz made sure she had met all of the government’s stringent entry requirements. Cunz, a 34-year-old museum curator from Switzerland, took a coronavirus test, paid for two weeks of quarantine at a government-designated hotel and steeled herself for half a month without fresh air.
But as her plane touched down in Hong Kong on Christmas morning, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: The government overnight had extended the quarantine period from two weeks to three, effective immediately. The passengers would have to secure a third week at their hotel before they could leave the airport.
Cunz was stunned. Not only would she have to pay for an extra week of quarantine but she would also have to postpone her start date at work by one week, meaning a loss of salary too.
“All your plans, they just fall apart,” Cunz said in a phone call from her hotel room, from which she can see her future office across Victoria Harbor.
The government has acknowledged the chaos, announcing last week that it was “very concerned” by reports of price gouging by hotels. Still, it has defended the policy as necessary to prevent the spread of a highly contagious variant of the virus. Hong Kong has largely managed to avoid the kind of mass outbreaks that have crippled most of the rest of the world, aided in part by its strict quarantine regimen.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• When can you get a vaccine? Washington will next prioritize vaccinating anyone who is 70 years and older, or anyone 50 and above who lives in a multigenerational household. The state yesterday laid out the priorities for the next four months' worth of vaccinations.
• The U.S. is flying blind when it comes to tracking the new virus variant that's ripping through Britain, scientists warn. They fear it could explode here in the next few weeks.
• Quarantine nightmare: As travelers face a patchwork of ever-changing rules, imagine landing and being told you'll need to spend three weeks in a hotel — but there are none to be found.
U.S. is blind to contagious new virus variant, scientists warn
With no robust system to identify genetic variations of the coronavirus, experts warn that the United States is woefully ill-equipped to track a dangerous new mutant, leaving health officials blind as they try to combat the grave threat.
The variant, which is now surging in Britain and burdening its hospitals with new cases, is rare for now in the United States. But it has the potential to explode in the next few weeks, putting new pressures on U.S. hospitals, some of which are already near the breaking point.
The United States has no large-scale, nationwide system for checking coronavirus genomes for new mutations, including the ones carried by the new variant. About 1.4 million people test positive for the virus each week, but researchers are only doing genome sequencing — a method that can definitively spot the new variant — on fewer than 3,000 of those weekly samples. And that work is done by a patchwork of academic, state and commercial laboratories.
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