Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, Jan. 8, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Last month, President Joe Biden announced that the government would purchase about half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits for people to use at home free of charge. But as public demand for COVID-19 tests continues to soar, it will likely take several weeks for the testing kits to be shipped, White House officials said.
Elsewhere in Washington, health officials reported Friday that over 10,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the state since the onset of the pandemic. The tragic milestone comes as the region continues to report record-breaking daily case counts.
Meanwhile, federal regulators announced Friday that people who received two doses of the Moderna vaccine need to wait five months to receive a booster and not six.
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.
Symphony cancels concert over COVID-19
The Seattle Symphony canceled a Saturday night performance led by conductor and composer John Adams, calling the decision a precaution against COVID-19.
The 8 p.m. show was to include music inspired by mid-20th century cinema. Online statements by the Symphony didn't mention any specific outbreak, and further details were unavailable late Saturday. Ticket-holders will be allowed to obtain exchanges or refunds. Read the story here.
Hospitals face tight labor market as staff flees omicron
U.S. hospitals are struggling to get the workers they need to treat patients through the winter’s COVID-19 surge as the virus collides with a historically tight labor market.
High demand for labor throughout the economy is making it harder to find replacements for doctors, nurses and support staff who have been sidelined by the omicron variant. It’s especially tough in small towns and rural areas with aging populations and fewer people entering the workforce.
Finding sufficient staff is a daily challenge that industry veterans say is harder than any time they can remember. Job openings in health care and social assistance are more than double their pandemic lows, and a record number of people are quitting.
Bare rooms, rotten fruit and boredom: Quarantine life on infected cruises
Although cruise ship passengers must follow strict rules to cruise – with the vast majority of people onboard vaccinated and everyone required to test negative – infections have slipped through. As positive cases mount, passengers and crew have coped with less-than-ideal accommodations. Many interviewed by The Washington Post reported long waits for service, hours without water, bare-bones food and confusion over when and whom to test — even as most ships maintain their course.
As more teachers’ unions push for remote schooling, parents worry. So do Democrats.
Few U.S. cities have labor politics as fraught as Chicago’s, where the nation’s third-largest school system shut down this past week after teachers’ union members refused to work in person, arguing that classrooms were unsafe amid the omicron surge.
But in a number of other places, the tenuous labor peace that has allowed most schools to operate normally this year is in danger of collapsing.
While not yet threatening to walk off the job, unions are back at negotiating tables, pushing in some cases for a return to remote learning. They frequently cite understaffing because of illness, and shortages of rapid tests and medical-grade masks. Some teachers, in a rear-guard action, have staged sickouts.
28,000 canceled flights later, airlines still looking for upper hand against omicron, weather
Laura Leonard was thrilled to get time off work to visit her mother in Connecticut over the holidays.
The trip was supposed to be quick, just four days during New Year’s weekend, but after months on the front lines of the pandemic as a case worker at a Chicago-area hospital, she was eager for a break. Then, 90 minutes before her scheduled Jan. 3 departure back home, Southwest Airlines canceled the flight.
It cost nearly $500 to get back to Chicago – two days later and on another airline. During the mad scramble to return home, she considered renting a car and driving 900 miles. The $680 price tag was just too much.
Like thousands of passengers who planned holiday trips, Leonard became caught in an epic travel meltdown in its third week that has forced the cancellation of more than 28,000 flights since the first signs of trouble on Christmas Eve, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. What began as a pandemic-related challenge quickly snowballed into a multitiered test – coupling the uncertainties of omicron with the more familiar headache of winter weather.
Washington state Sen. John Lovick tests positive for COVID
Washington state Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, has tested positive for COVID-19, he said in a statement Friday. Lovick described his symptoms as mild.
“I’m fine, I have a bit of a cold, but other than that I feel OK,” said Lovick, 70. “One thing is for sure – I’m relieved that I’m both vaccinated and boosted.”
Lovick was recently appointed to the Senate to replace Sen. Steve Hobbs, who left his position to become Washington’s secretary of state. Before his appointment, Lovick was a member of the Washington state House of Representatives, where he’d served since 2016. Lovick had previously served in the House from 1999 to 2007. A longtime law- enforcement officer, Lovick was also previously a member of the Mill Creek City Council, as well as Snohomish County’s sheriff and executive.
Rural hospitals in northeast Washington struggle to transfer patients for care
The Spokane Regional Health District reported 852 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths Friday. This is the highest daily case count reported for Spokane County during the entire pandemic.
The numbers underscore struggles across the state as more and more people are sick.
Rural hospitals in the Inland Northwest, for example, are now struggling to transfer patients to larger hospitals, including those in Spokane, where emergency departments are full.
Many hospitals in the Inland Northwest are having to board patients, care for them or keep them in the emergency department, until a bed opens up in their hospital to treat them.
Hundreds in Lebanon protest measures targeting unvaccinated
BEIRUT (AP) — Hundreds of people rallied in Beirut on Saturday to protest measures imposed against the unvaccinated, saying individuals should have the right to decide whether to be inoculated or not.
Vaccination is not compulsory in Lebanon, but in recent days authorities have cracked down on people who are not inoculated or don’t carry a negative PCR test.
Saturday’s protest by nearly 300 people in downtown Beirut came a day after the daily number of new coronavirus cases hit a record 7,974.
The protest came days after authorities imposed fresh restrictions — including the requirement of a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test for entry into restaurants, hotels and similar venues.
Omicron explosion spurs nationwide breakdown of services
The current explosion of omicron-fueled coronavirus infections in the U.S. is causing a breakdown in basic functions and services — the latest illustration of how COVID-19 keeps upending life more than two years into the pandemic.
First responders, hospitals, schools and government agencies have employed an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep the public safe, but they are worried how much longer they can keep it up.
About 1 million rapid tests expired in Florida
About 1 million rapid coronavirus tests that Florida had amassed during the pandemic expired last month, the state acknowledged this week, blaming low demand before the omicron variant caused a surge in infections.
“We had a stockpile, but no one really wanted them for many, many months,” Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Friday as he faced a second day of questions about the expired tests, which are not for use at home.
The state asked the federal government if the expiration date could be extended but has not heard back, Kevin Guthrie, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Thursday. The batch had been set to expire in the fall, he added, but their shelf life was extended until late December.
U.K. gov’t advisers recommend against 4th vaccine dose
LONDON (AP) — U.K. government advisers have recommended against giving a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to nursing home residents and people over 80 because data shows that a third shot offers lasting protection against admission to the hospital.
For people over 65, protection against hospitalization remains at about 90% three months after the third dose, according to data compiled by the U.K. Health Security Agency.
As a result, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization on Friday advised the government that there was no need to offer a fourth dose, or second booster, to vulnerable people at this time. Instead, the government should focus on giving a third dose to as many people as possible to boost protection against the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Lessons forgotten: Election rallies feed Indian virus surge
NEW DELHI (AP) — Coronavirus cases fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant are rocketing through India, prompting the federal government and states to swiftly reintroduce a string of restrictions.
Night curfews are back. Restaurants and bars are running at half their capacity. Some states have closed schools and movie theaters. Large gatherings are to be downsized.
But India’s political leaders are busy on the campaign trail ahead of crucial state polls, addressing packed rallies of tens of thousands of people, many without masks.
COVID stopped these Seattle seniors from exercising. Now they dance together on Zoom
Before the pandemic, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, or ACRS, hosted an on-site “Club Bamboo” program that gave older adults an upbeat place to chat, dance and eat lunches with Asian and Pacific Islander dishes every weekday, while steering them toward other ACRS offerings, such as housing assistance, mental health counseling and citizenship courses.
But many in-person programs in the Seattle area, including Club Bamboo, have been suspended since COVID-19 emerged almost two years ago, leaving seniors at risk of becoming physically inactive and socially isolated.
About eight months ago, something exciting happened: Club Bamboo moved online.
Based in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, ACRS is one of 13 nonprofits that benefit from reader donations to The Seattle Times Fund for Those in Need.
Court documents show Djokovic had COVID-19 last month
Novak Djokovic’s lawyers filed court papers Saturday in his challenge against deportation from Australia that show the tennis star tested positive for COVID-19 last month and recovered, grounds he used in applying for a medical exemption to the country’s strict vaccination rules.
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic was denied entry at the Melbourne airport late Wednesday after border officials canceled his visa for failing to meet its entry requirement that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
Djokovic was given a medical exemption backed by the Victoria state government and Australian Open organizers on Jan. 1, based on information he supplied to two independent medical panels, and he was approved for a visa electronically.
But it has since emerged that the Victoria state medical exemption, allowed for people who tested positive for the coronavirus within the last six months, was deemed invalid by the federal border authorities.
Omicron could boost immunity, some experts say. But don’t bet on it
As omicron sickens millions of Americans, some disease experts are peering into the future, speculating that the massive winter wave of infections from this new coronavirus variant might produce something beneficial in the long run.
They note that omicron, while stunningly contagious, appears less likely to send someone to the hospital. The variant’s extraordinary transmissibility could boost immunity as it rips through the population and — once this tide of cases has ebbed — make the pandemic a less dangerous health emergency.
The idea that omicron has a silver lining is not a fully formed scientific theory. It’s conjecture, in some cases unspooled on Twitter threads and floated in television interviews. At worst, it is “arm-waving,” to use the term that serious scientists employ as a pejorative.
And even the experts promoting the idea concede that it is an educated guess — and is contingent upon the virus itself, which has repeatedly surprised experts and may generate new variants that are more dangerous than omicron.
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