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 It is no longer being updated.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

The United States has once again registered a record number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day — nearly 3,900 — with California hit particularly hard. The number of Americans who have gotten their first vaccine shot, however, climbed to at least 5.9 million Thursday.

The Food and Drug Administration is also warning patients and health care providers about the potential risks of false negative results, specifically with tests from Curative, a California-based company that has launched at least five testing kiosks in Seattle.

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

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

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)


China asks residents in 2 cities to stay home

BEIJING — Chinese authorities have asked residents in two cities south of Beijing to stay home for seven days as they try to stamp out a COVID-19 outbreak in which more than 300 people have tested positive in the past week.

The cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai in Hebei province are restricting people to their communities and villages and have banned gatherings, according to notices they posted on social media.

Hebei reported 14 more confirmed cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total in the ongoing outbreak to 137. It has found another 197 people without symptoms who tested positive. China does not include such asymptomatic cases in its confirmed count.

Beijing is requiring workers from Hebei to show proof of employment in Beijing and a negative COVID test before entering the nation’s capital. Chinese media reported hours-long backups at entry points on Friday.

—Associated Press

Judge’s ruling lets state and Seattle eviction moratoriums stand while lawsuit proceeds

A federal judge has rejected an attempt by Seattle landlords to suspend a temporary ban on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling means the city and state bans can stay in place while the legal fight plays out.

Several landlords represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation sued in September, seeking an injunction to stop the moratoriums. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones denied the request Friday.

Jones concurred with U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Creatura, who wrote last month that the property owners had not shown they would suffer irreparable harm from the eviction bans while the case continues in court. 

The city and state have a legitimate interest in stopping evictions as a public health measure, Creatura wrote. 

In addition to state and city moratoriums on evictions, Seattle is requiring landlords to offer payment plans.

For six months after the city moratorium ends, Seattle tenants who experienced financial hardship because of the pandemic will also have a defense in court against eviction.

Read the full story here.

—Heidi Groover

WHO: Rich nations, vaccine firms should stop bilateral deals

GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief appealed on Friday to makers of COVID-19 vaccines and the wealthier countries buying them to “stop making bilateral deals,” saying they hurt a U.N.-backed effort to widen access to the jabs.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 42 countries are now rolling out such vaccines, mostly high-income and a few middle-income countries. He called on countries that have more jabs than they need to make some available to the COVAX Facility — the U.N.-backed project to get vaccines deployed widely.

“Now, we are also seeing both high- and middle-income countries that are part of COVAX making additional bilateral deals,” he told reporters in Geneva. “This potentially bumps up the price for everyone and means high-risk people in the poorest and most marginalized countries don’t get the vaccine.”

“I urge countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX,” said Tedros, the WHO director-general.

Tedros also urged manufacturers to make the data about their vaccines available, which is needed for the U.N. health agency to be able to provide “emergency use listings” that can expedite their deployment.

—Associated Press

Husky women’s basketball postpones next week’s games at USC and UCLA due to COVID-19 developments within program

The Washington women’s basketball team has been put on pause due to recent COVID-19 developments that wiped out Friday’s game against No. 7 Arizona and forced the Huskies to call off next week’s trip to Los Angeles and postpone games at USC and UCLA.

On Wednesday, UW Athletics reported three active positive COVID-19 cases out of 568 student-athletes who have gone through testing. The university chooses not to specify how many positive COVID-19 cases belong to each individual program “to protect the health information of our student-athletes,” according to UW associate athletic director for health and wellness Rob Scheidegger.

Before this latest string of postponements, UW’s game against Arizona State, which was scheduled for Sunday, was scratched as a result of a positive COVID-19 test among the Sun Devils.

“Literally I wake up every day (saying), ‘don’t get COVID, don’t get COVID, don’t get COVID,’” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne told the Arizona Republic. “In our circle all we do is test, play, eat and go home.”

Three weeks into the Pac-12 season, the Huskies (4-5, 1-5 Pac-12) have had nearly as many league games postponed (five) than they’ve played. On Dec. 21, Washington didn’t host Oregon State after the Beavers had positive COVID-19 tests.

Read the full story here.

—Percy Allen

Oregon National Guard to support COVID-19 vaccinations

SALEM, Ore. — Hundreds of people received COVID-19 vaccines Friday at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in a mass vaccination that the doctor in charge called “the most meaningful work of my career.”

Next week, the operation will be stepped up with the Oregon National Guard having been called up by Gov. Kate Brown to support the mission in Salem.

“The goal is to vaccinate 250 people per hour, vaccinating thousands of Oregonians,” Brown announced during a Zoom call with reporters.

On Friday, Dr. Ralph Yates, chief medical officer for Salem Health Hospital and regional care system, looked with satisfaction as people received their shots at 24 tables set up in the cavernous, cinder-block main fairgrounds building.

“In terms of mass vaccinations (in Oregon) I think we’re it,” Yates said. “This can be replicated easily.”

There is space in the building, almost the size of a Costco, to triple the vaccination stations when National Guard medics and other troops arrive as early as Tuesday.

—Associated Press

Providence closes hospital unit amid COVID-19 outbreak

PORTLAND, Ore. — Providence Health & Services has shut down a unit of its Northeast Portland hospital after a COVID-19 outbreak that has led to 49 staffers and patients contracting the virus.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the outbreak is the largest to date at a metro-area hospital around Portland and is believed to have started Dec. 20. Officials said it was centered in a unit that treats patients who are stable but in need of ongoing, intense care, like stroke and traumatic brain injury victims.

Providence spokesman Gary Walker confirmed the outbreak and said 36 hospital workers and 13 patients contracted the virus. None of them have died and most were asymptomatic or were only mildly ill, Walker said.

Registered nurse Jeremy Shipley worked in the unit and contracted the virus. He’s recovering but it’s been devastating, he said, to catch the coronavirus despite his meticulous attention to safety.

“I’ve been a champion of personal protection and caution,” he said. “I feel overwhelming shame that I was the one on our staff who went down.”

—Associated Press

New round of Paycheck Protection Program funds starts on Monday

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program money will start becoming available to select lenders and borrowers on Monday, according to senior administration officials.

Community financial institutions — approximately 10% of eligible lenders — will be able to start accepting loan applications Monday for entities seeking their first PPP loans.

On Wednesday, those same lenders can begin processing second-round loans for small businesses and nonprofits that have already used up their first loan, the officials said on a call with reporters Friday. The lending portal will be available for other eligible lenders and borrowers shortly thereafter.

Businesses might have to wait longer for their loan to be processed than they did in the spring. The applications will go through a series of automated checks before a loan number is issued. This could take about a day, the officials said.


Washington state reports 4,829 new COVID-19 infections and 65 more deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 4,829 new coronavirus cases and 65 new deaths Friday.

The update brings the state's totals to 268,607 cases and 3,699 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. Thursday.

In addition, 15,557 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 67,932 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,105 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.

Indonesia’s top Islamic body OKs China’s Sinovac vaccine

Indonesia’s highest Islamic body on Friday gave its religious approval to China’s Sinovac vaccine, paving the way for its distribution in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Muslim women ride a motorbike past a coronavirus-themed mural in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Writings on the mural read “Let’s fight coronavirus together.” (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

The Indonesian Ulema Council announced that the COVID-19 vaccine is holy and halal, or fit for consumption by Muslims.

The head of the council’s Fatwa Department Asorirun Niam Sholeh also said that the complete fatwa, or religious edict, related to the safety of the vaccine is still waiting for the green light from the Indonesian Food and Drug Authority.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Sweden changes course, passing law allowing coronavirus lockdowns

Sweden’s parliament passed an emergency law Friday empowering the government to impose coronavirus-related lockdowns after nearly a year of avoiding some public health measures that have become the norm across Europe and much of the world.

“We see a great risk that we will be in a difficult situation for some time ahead,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told the country’s broadcaster Friday before the law’s passage, Bloomberg News reported. “Of course, that means the pandemic law should be utilized, and we will use it in the near term.”

Sweden’s shift in strategy comes at a new stage in the pandemic: the world is unfurling vaccine programs at the same time that many countries are battling dangerous surges in coronavirus cases.

The Swedish law goes into effect Sunday and permits the government to “introduce special restrictions for both certain activities and places,” according to a statement on the parliament’s website.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Cyprus to return to lockdown conditions to stem virus spread

A woman wearing face mask is reflected on the window of a closed shop, in central Nicosia, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. Cyprus is returning to lockdown mode for the remainder of the month with daytime restrictions on movement and a shuttering of schools after the country’s health minister conceded that a raft of tough measures already in place including a night-time curfew weren’t enough to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. (Petros Karadjias / The Associated Press)

 Cyprus is returning to lockdown mode for the remainder of the month, including daytime restrictions on movement and a shuttering of schools, after the country’s health minister conceded Friday that a nightly curfew and other existing measures weren’t enough to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said intensive care units treating COVID-19 patients in Cyprus have reached their limits and tougher restrictions are needed to prevent “people dying helpless because we don’t have available beds.” The new measures take effect Sunday, he said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Coroner, CDC to review doctor’s death 2 weeks after vaccine

The medical examiner’s office in Miami is looking into the death of a doctor who died about two weeks after getting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Friday.

In a statement, Pfizer said it was aware of the death, but that it didn’t think there was any direct connection to the vaccine.

The death of Dr. Gregory Michael, 56, is being investigated along with the Florida Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pfizer said the doctor died 16 days after receiving a vaccine shot. The company said he had a severe case of a condition that can prevent blood from clotting and cause internal bleeding.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Burundi closes borders again as COVID-19 cases on the rise

Burundi will close its land and water borders starting Monday and all passengers passing through the Bujumbura airport will be escorted by police, the government said Friday as COVID-19 cases surge again in parts of the African continent.

This is the second time the East African nation has closed its borders to help contain the spread of the virus.

Early in the pandemic, the administration of the late President Pierre Nkurunziza faced criticism for not taking the coronavirus seriously. But new President Evariste Ndayishimiye shortly after taking office in June called COVID-19 the country’s “worst enemy.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

King County to open mass COVID-19 vaccination sites

King County will direct $7 million from the county’s budget to stand up mass COVID-19 vaccination sites, county officials said in a news briefing Friday morning.

The county plans to launch two vaccination sites in hard-hit south King County as soon as Feb. 1, said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. The county will launch mobile vaccination clinics as soon as possible, Hayes added.

“As soon as sufficient supply of vaccine is available, we’re ready to serve,” Hayes said.

County Executive Dow Constantine said the county would pay for these sites with its own budget though expected federal reimbursements.

Read the story here.

—Evan Bush

California bypasses tough nurse care rules amid virus surge

Nerissa Black was already having a hard time tending to four COVID-19 patients who need constant heart monitoring. But because of staffing shortages affecting hospitals throughout California, her workload recently increased to six people infected with the coronavirus.

Black, a registered nurse at the telemetry cardiac unit of the Henry Mayo Hospital in Valencia, just north of Los Angeles, barely has time to take a break or eat a meal. But what really worries her is not having enough time to spend with each of her patients.

“We have had more patients falling (in December) compared to last year because we don’t have enough staff to take care of everybody,” Black said.

Nurse Nerissa Black takes a selfie wearing protective gear at work on Dec. 13, 2020 at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia, Calif. Black was already having a hard time tending to four COVID-19 patients who need constant heart monitoring. But because of staffing shortages affecting hospitals throughout California, her workload recently increased to six people infected with the coronavirus. Overwhelmed California nurses are now caring for more COVID-19 patients after the state began issuing waivers that allow hospitals to temporarily bypass strict nurse-to-patient ratios. Nurses say the new workload is pushing them to the brink of burnout and affecting patient care. (Nerissa Black via AP)

Overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in the nation’s most populous state, Black and many other nurses already stretched thin are now caring for more patients than typically allowed under state law after the state began issuing waivers that allow hospitals to temporarily bypass a strict nurse-to-patient ratios law — a move they say is taking a personal toll, pushing them to the brink of burnout and affecting patient care.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

LA, Congress take divergent paths after COVID test warning

 The nation’s second-largest city said it will keep using a coronavirus test that federal regulators warned may produce false results while Congress, which has used the same test, is seeking an alternative.

The different responses Thursday followed a Food and Drug Administration alert to patients and health care providers that Curative’s test, which is used in some of the nation’s largest cities, could particularly produce false negatives. Those faulty results pose the biggest risk from a health perspective because people who are erroneously told they don’t have the virus can unknowingly spread it.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Iran’s top leader bans corona vaccines from US, Britain

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Friday banned Iran from importing of American Pfizer-BioNTech and Britain’s Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccines, a reflection of mistrust toward the West.

In a televised speech, he said the import of American and British vaccines were “forbidden,” referring to the surging death tolls from the virus in both countries.

”I really do not trust,” them, Khamenei said of those nations. “Sometimes they want to test” their vaccines on other countries, adding, “I am not optimistic (about) France,” either.

Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

WHO: Amid short supplies, vaccine doses can be 6 weeks apart

World Health Organization experts on Friday issued recommendations that the interval between administration of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus can be extended to up to six weeks.

WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, known as SAGE, formally published its advice after a full review of that vaccine, which is the first to get emergency approval from the U.N. health agency to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It said an interval of 21 to 28 days between the doses is recommended.

But the U.N. health agency also noted that “a number of countries face exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints combined with a high disease burden,” and said some have been considering delaying the administration of a second dose as a way to broaden initial coverage.

The agency said this “pragmatic approach” could be considered as a response to “exceptional epidemiological circumstances.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

U.S. tops 4,000 daily deaths from coronavirus for 1st time

The U.S. has topped 4,000 daily deaths from the coronavirus for the first time, breaking a record set just one day earlier, with the surge being driven in several Sun Belt states that experienced spikes over the summer.

The tally from Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. had 4,085 deaths Thursday. The U.S. had nearly 275,000 new coronavirus cases on the same day.

The numbers are another reminder of the worsening situation following travel for holidays and family gatherings, along with more time indoors during the winter months.

Cases and deaths are soaring in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. Those four states had a combined nearly 1,500 deaths and 80,000 cases on Thursday – figures that were comparable to nationwide totals in October.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Biden to speed release of coronavirus vaccines

President-elect Joe Biden will release most available COVID-19 vaccine doses to speed delivery to more people, a reversal of the Trump administration policy, his office said Friday.

“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” spokesman T.J. Ducklo said in a statement.

Biden “supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”

Under the Trump administration’s approach, the government has been holding back a supply of vaccines to guarantee that people can get a second shot, which provides maximum protection against COVID-19.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a second shot about three weeks after the first vaccination. One-shot vaccines are still undergoing testing.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

UK approves 3rd vaccine

The tourist and theatre area, Shaftesbury Avenue is unusually quiet in London, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.  Regulators  authorized a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna Friday, the third to be licensed for use.    (Kirsty Wigglesworth / The Associated Press)

Britain has authorized a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, the third to be licensed for use in the country as it ramps up a vaccination program critical to lifting the U.K. out of the pandemic.

The Department of Health said Friday that the vaccine meets the regulator’s “strict standards of safety, efficacy and quality.” Britain has now ordered a total of 17 million doses that will have been delivered by the spring.

“Vaccines are the key to releasing us all from the grip of this pandemic, and today’s news is yet another important step towards ending lockdown and returning to normal life,’’ Business Secretary Alok Sharma said.

So far, Britain has inoculated 1.5 million people with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccines. It plans to vaccinate some 15 million people by mid-February.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

London mayor seeks help as UK sees record new virus deaths

London’s mayor declared the capital’s COVID-19 situation to be critical Friday, reflecting deteriorating conditions for beleaguered hospitals, as the country recorded its highest daily death toll in the pandemic.

The grim news that another 1,325 people have died within 28 days of a positive test came hours after the U.K regulator authorized a third vaccine for emergency use.

The figure brings Britain’s official death toll from the coronavirus to 79,833, the highest in Europe. Not all the deaths announced by the government on Friday occurred on the same day.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident,″ as the rapid spread of the virus pushed hospitals to breaking point, with the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients up 27% in the week to Jan. 6. One in 30 people in Britain’s capital was infected with the virus in the week to Jan. 2, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

2 Oregon men accused of fraudulently obtaining $2.2M in COVID-19 loans

Two Oregon men are accused of converting for personal use more than $2.2 million in loans meant to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew Aaron Lloyd, 50, of Lebanon, and Russell A. Schort, 38, of Myrtle Creek, are charged with wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering in federal court in Eugene, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

The FBI investigated after receiving information that the men fraudulently obtained Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were authorized by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Between April 7 and May 8, financial records showed both applied for and received at least three loan payments using three different entities, totaling more than $2.2 million, according to a criminal complaint filed in court.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Vaccine rollout hits snag as health workers balk at shots

The desperately awaited vaccination drive against the coronavirus in the U.S. is running into resistance from an unlikely quarter: Surprising numbers of health care workers who have seen firsthand the death and misery inflicted by COVID-19 are refusing shots.

It is happening in nursing homes and, to a lesser degree, in hospitals, with employees expressing what experts say are unfounded fears of side effects from vaccines that were developed at record speed. More than three weeks into the campaign, some places are seeing as much as 80% of the staff holding back.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a guinea pig,” said Dr. Stephen Noble, a 42-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon in Portland, Oregon, who is postponing getting vaccinated. “At the end of the day, as a man of science, I just want to see what the data show. And give me the full data.”

Alarmed by the phenomenon, some administrators have dangled everything from free breakfasts at Waffle House to a raffle for a car to get employees to roll up their sleeves. Some states have threatened to let other people cut ahead of health care workers in the line for shots.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

China city offers cash for tip on test evaders

A city in northern China is offering rewards of 500 yuan ($77) for anyone who reports on a resident who has not taken a recent coronavirus test.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk through an upscale shopping mall in Beijing, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. A city in northern China is offering rewards of 500 yuan ($77) for anyone who reports on a resident who has not taken a coronavirus test. The offer from the government of Nangong comes as millions in the city and the surrounding province of Hebei are being tested as part of efforts to control China’s most serious recent outbreak of infections. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The offer from the government of Nangong comes as millions in the city and its surrounding province of Hebei are being tested as part of efforts to control China’s most serious recent outbreak of COVID-19.

The offering of cash or other rewards for information on political or social nonconformists has a long history in China, but the pandemic is putting a new face on the practice. Those found noncompliant will be forced to undergo testing and a two-week quarantine at their own expense.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Second Bremerton nursing home hit by COVID-19 outbreak

Another Bremerton nursing home has been hit by the coronavirus. This time it’s Stafford Healthcare at Belmont, where a COVID-19 outbreak has infected 37 people.

Three staff members and 34 residents at the facility have tested positive for the virus, said Stafford’s Administrator Robert Washbond.

Last month, 78 people were infected at Forest Ridge Health and Rehabilitation, prompting staffing issues at the Bremerton nursing home.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

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. 

Read the story here.


Storming of Capitol was textbook potential COVID-19 superspreader, experts say

Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol did not just overshadow one of the deadliest days of the coronavirus pandemic – it could have contributed to the crisis as a textbook potential superspreader, health experts warn.

Thousands of Trump supporters dismissive of the virus’s threat packed together with few face coverings – shouting, jostling and forcing their way indoors to halt certification of the election results, many converging from out of town at the president’s urging. Police rushed hundreds of members of Congress to crowded quarters where legislators say some of their colleagues refused to wear masks as well.

“This was in some many ways an extraordinarily dangerous event yesterday, not only from the security aspects but from the public health aspects, and there will be a fair amount of disease that comes from it,” said Eric Toner, senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Experts said that resulting infections will be near-impossible to track, with massive crowds fanning out around the country and few rioters detained and identified. They also wondered if even a significant number of cases would register in a nation overwhelmed by covid-19. As Americans shared their shock and anger at the Capitol breach Thursday, the United States reported more than 132,000 people currently hospitalized with the virus and more than 4,000 covid-19 deaths, the highest single-day tally yet.

“It is a very real possibility that this will lead to a major outbreak but one that we may or may not be able to recognize,” said Toner. “All the cases to likely derive from this event will likely be lost in the huge number of cases we have in the country right now.”

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

UN fears ‘massive’ COVID transmission in Ethiopia’s Tigray

The United Nations fears “massive community transmission” of COVID-19 in Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, fueled by displacement and the collapse of health services, as humanitarian workers finally begin to access the region two months after fighting began.

A new U.N. report based on the first on-the-ground assessments confirms some of the grim concerns around Tigray’s some 6 million people since the conflict erupted Nov. 4 between Ethiopian forces and those of the Tigray region: Hospitals have been looted, even destroyed, and some fighting continues.

Tigray leaders dominated Ethiopia’s government for nearly three decades before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power and sidelined them amid sweeping reforms that won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Abiy has rejected international “interference” in the conflict even as the U.N. and others pleaded for weeks for unhindered access to Tigray as food, medicines and other supplies ran out.

Now COVID-19 has emerged as the latest source of alarm. “Only five out of 40 hospitals in Tigray are physically accessible,” the new U.N. report issued Thursday says. “Apart from those in (the Tigray capital) Mekele, the remaining hospitals are looted and many reportedly destroyed.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two easier-to-spread variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.

Those variants are causing global concern. They carry multiple mutations but share one in common that’s believed to be the reason they are more contagious. Called N501Y, it is a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus.

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.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Will somebody tell you when it's your turn for a vaccine? After Washington laid out who's included in each priority phase for the next four months, our FAQ Friday looks at how the communication will work.  

If you get sick, how long afterward will you be immune? Scientists are pleased at the lingering immunity found in many patients. But there are caveats, and "if I had COVID, I would still not throw away my masks," one says. 

More reasons to keep using the masks: People without symptoms are silently spreading the virus in more than half of cases, the CDC has found. And tests aren't always a good safeguard, particularly as the government warns of false negative results.

The two deadliest days of the pandemic came this week in the U.S., and signs of trouble ahead keep emerging. Among them: One congressman who was inside the Capitol for Wednesday's chaos has tested positive for the virus.

More coronavirus relief is on the way for small businesses. The federal government is laying out how the revived Paycheck Protection Program will work.

Bzzzzzt! Don't stand so close to me! British Broadcasting Corp. staff will have to wear jarring new social-distancing gadgets, in a sign of how workplaces are scurrying to contain a new variant of the virus.

—Kris Higginson

How is the pandemic affecting you?

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