Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, January 9, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
With COVID-19 surging and vaccinations off to a slow start, President-elect Joe Biden announced Friday, in a reversal of Trump administration policies, his plans to accelerate distribution of vaccine doses to protect more people.
In King County, officials said this week that they will direct $7 million from the county’s budget to stand up mass COVID-19 vaccination sites. Two will be launched in hard-hit South King County by Feb. 1, they said.
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.
Study: 2 arthritis drugs reduce deaths among very sick COVID patients
The British government on Friday issued new guidance encouraging health care providers to use two arthritis drugs to treat severely sick COVID-19 patients, following the release of promising data from a clinical trial that has not yet undergone formal scientific review.
The findings in a new paper show that treatment regimens involving the drugs tocilizumab or sarilumab reduced the death rate among COVID patients in intensive care to about 27%, compared with 36% among patients who did not receive the drugs. Based on these results, about one death would be prevented for every 12 ICU patients treated early with these drugs. All of the patients in the trial received the drugs within 24 hours of entering intensive care.
“I think it’s a huge result,” said Dr. Anthony Gordon, an anesthesiologist and critical care physician at Imperial College London and the trial’s lead researcher. “Showing that drugs that are available and can be used to save lives in this pandemic is a wonderful achievement.”
The results raise the profile of these drugs as among the few so far, apart from steroids like dexamethasone, that have reduced COVID deaths in a well-designed clinical trial. (Most of the new study’s participants also took steroids during their hospital stay.)
The big dip in mortality shown in the trial of about 800 patients caught some experts by surprise. Other studies testing the effects of tocilizumab and sarilumab have ended in disappointment, showing little to no benefit in people hospitalized for COVID.
Read the full story.
3,079 new coronavirus cases reported in Washington on Saturday
State health officials confirmed 3,079 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Saturday; new death totals are not reported by on weekends.
The update brings the state’s totals to 271,595 cases, with the number of deaths remaining at 3,698, meaning about 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Friday.
The latest count also puts Washington at an average of 2,542 cases per day for the past 14 days.
So far, 4,034,744 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Washington's 28 day average of positive tests is 11.6%, according to the state's risk assessment dashboard.
In King County, Washington's most populous, DOH has confirmed 68,799 diagnoses and 1,105 deaths, accounting for nearly 30% of the state's death toll.
How Singapore kept the coronavirus off campus
Every day, Tan Eng Chye, president of the National University of Singapore, scans his online dashboard to see how crowded the cafeterias are.
If the real-time map shows that one cafeteria is too packed, he has administrators send out an advisory to avoid it and to remind students that there are campus-run food delivery services, free of charge.
Following the government’s lead, universities in Singapore, a semi-authoritarian city-state of almost 6 million people, have taken a top-down approach to managing the coronavirus. The result: Since the start of the pandemic last year, not one person has been found to have contracted the virus at any of Singapore’s three major universities.
While Singapore’s universities have benefited from a generally low caseload in its broader population, their experience and stringent measures stand in stark contrast to many campuses across the United States. A number of U.S. universities experienced an explosion in cases almost as soon as students returned last fall.
The National University of Singapore, or NUS, describes its strategy as containment, decongestion and contact tracing. The university has harnessed technology to enforce social distancing measures, assigned students to different zones on campus and imposed tough penalties for flouting the rules. Like some U.S. colleges, it is testing people extensively and even sifting through sewage for traces of the virus.
The goal, Tan said, “is to make sure there are no infections” among the students, faculty and staff members at NUS.
Read the full story.
Amazon prepares to administer COVID vaccine to its workers in warehouses, Whole Foods stores
Amazon is preparing to administer on-site COVID-19 vaccinations to nearly 20,000 of its workers in Washington, according to a letter from the company to Gov. Jay Inslee in which the company urged the state to prioritize its workers for vaccination.
An Amazon spokesperson reiterated Saturday that the company’s warehouse and grocery workers should receive the vaccine “at the earliest appropriate time.”
The commerce giant said in the Dec. 21 letter that it has signed an agreement with “a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to administer vaccines, just like we do for seasonal flu shots.” KING 5 initially reported on Amazon’s communication with Inslee’s office.
Amazon, the state’s largest employer, also contacted the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine to assure officials that Amazon stands “ready to partner with the state and King County to help with logistics or other assistance should they need it,” company spokesperson Glenn Kuper said in an email.
Read the full story.
Providence closes Oregon hospital unit amid COVID-19 outbreak
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.”
Several Oregon hospitals have had virus outbreaks. A total of 158 staff and patients have contracted COVID-19 at Salem Hospital since June. Nearly 90 have been infected at Good Shepherd Hospital in Hermiston since summer. Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg has reported 61 COVID cases sincesummer.
PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington has reported several outbreaks with the most recent infecting 29 people starting in late December.
Asia Today: China asks residents in 2 cities to stay home
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.
In a separate outbreak, three more cases were reported in Liaoning province in the northeast, bringing the total there to 84 since the first cases surfaced about three weeks ago. Beijing has had 31 cases over the same period, though no new ones in the past 24 hours.
UK to vaccinate out of pandemic by looking to local doctors
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock turned up at a doctor’s office in London this week to highlight the start of coronavirus vaccinations by local general practitioners.
There was only one problem: There was no vaccine. It didn’t arrive in time for Hancock’s press event.
It was an embarrassing moment for the U.K.’s top health official and a reminder of the challenges Britain faces as it races to vaccinate some 15 million people by mid-February.
GPs like Dr. Ammara Hughes are crucial to the National Health Service’s plan to expand vaccinations from hospitals and clinics to doctors’ offices around the country.
“It’s just more frustrating than a concern,” Dr. Hughes told Sky News. “If we had a regular supply, we do have the capacity to vaccinate 3,000-4,000 patients a week … which would ease the pressure on the health service and we could get more and more people vaccinated quickly, and hopefully get out of the pandemic.”
To ensure vaccines get to the right place at the right time, along with the syringes, alcohol swabs and protective equipment needed to administer them, the government has called in the army.
Read the full story
Anchorage vaccination appointments fill up quickly
Health officials in Anchorage said appointments for residents to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine have filled up in a matter of hours this week, leading to frustration for people still trying to sign up as vaccination clinics are planned throughout the weekend and early next week.
Anchorage Health Department Director Heather Harris said all 1,800 available time slots were reserved by residents within a four-hour period on Thursday, KTUU-TV reported. Clinics are not accepting walk-ins.
Harris said Anchorage is expecting about 14,600 doses this month, but that’s far fewer than the nearly 33,000 residents who are 65 and older and are now able to receive the vaccine.
Read the full story.
California is desperate, but volunteer health corps dwindles
California desperately needs more medical workers at facilities swamped by coronavirus patients, but almost no help is coming from a volunteer program that Gov. Gavin Newsom created at the start of the pandemic. An army of 95,000 initially raised their hands, and just 14 are now working in the field.
Very few volunteers actually met qualifications for the California Health Corps, and only a tiny sliver have the high-level experience needed to help with the most serious virus cases that are stretching intensive care units to the limit.
“Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out, and the goal is laudable,” said Stephanie Roberson, government relations director for the California Nurses Association.
Newsom formed the Health Corps in anticipation of the cascading crises that California and other states are now experiencing. COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and intensive care needs are spiraling out of control in the most populous state just as the rest of the nation sees a surge, overwhelming the usual pool of traveling nurses.
Similarly, New York had more than 80,000 medical volunteers respond to a call for help early in the pandemic when it was a hot spot, and some were deployed. But hospitals more often turned to temporary workers to fill the gap, said Jean Moore, director of the Health Workforce Research Center at University at Albany.
Other states, including Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania, tried variations of recruiting volunteers with limited results.
Read the full story.
As Coronavirus Mutates, the World Stumbles Again to Respond
DURBAN, South Africa — Doctors and nurses at a South African hospital group noticed an odd spike in the number of COVID-19 patients in their wards in late October. The government had slackened its lockdown grip, and springtime had brought more parties. But the numbers were growing too quickly to easily explain, prompting a distressing question.
“Is this a different strain?” one hospital official asked in a group email in early November, raising the possibility that the virus had developed a dangerous mutation.
That question touched off a high-stakes genetic investigation that began here in Durban on the Indian Ocean, tipped off researchers in Britain and is now taking place around the world. Scientists have discovered worrisome new variants of the virus, leading to border closures, quarantines and lockdowns, and dousing some of the enthusiasm that arrived with the vaccines.
Britain has been particularly overwhelmed. Infections and hospitalizations have skyrocketed in recent weeks since that country discovered its own variant of the virus, which is more contagious than previous forms. By one estimate, the mutated virus is already responsible for more than 60% of new infections in London and surrounding areas.
The coronavirus has evolved as it made its way across the world, as any virus is expected to do. But experts have been startled by the pace at which significant new variants have emerged, adding new urgency to the race between the world’s best defenses — vaccinations, lockdowns and social distancing — and an aggressive, ever-changing foe.
The new variant pummeling Britain has already been found in about 45 countries, from Singapore to Oman to Jamaica, but many countries are effectively flying blind, with little sense of how bad the problem may be.
Long before the pandemic emerged, public health officials were calling for routine genetic surveillance of outbreaks. But despite years of warnings, many countries — including the United States — are conducting only a fraction of the genomic studies needed to determine how prevalent mutations of the virus are.
Read the full story here.
Once again, job losses fall unequally across the US economy
Ten months into America’s viral outbreak, low-income workers are still bearing the brunt of job losses — an unusual and harsh feature of the pandemic recession that flattened the economy last spring.
In December, the nation shed jobs for the first time since April. Once again, the layoffs were heavily concentrated in the industries that have suffered most because they involve the kind of face-to-face contact that is now nearly impossible: Restaurants, bars and hotels, theaters, sports arenas and concert halls.
With the virus transforming consumer spending habits, economists believe some portion of these service jobs won’t return even after the economy has regained its footing. That trend will likely further widen the economic inequalities that have left millions of families unable to buy food or pay rent.
Typically in a recession, layoffs strike a broad array of industries — both those that employ higher- and middle-income workers and those with lower-paid staff — as anxious consumers slash spending. Economists had worried that the same trend would emerge this time.
Instead, much of the rest of the economy is healing, if slowly and fitfully. Factories, while not fully recovered, are cranking out goods and have added jobs every month since May. Home sales have soared 26% from a year ago, fueled by affluent people able to work from home who are looking for more space. That trend has, in turn, bolstered higher-paying jobs in banking, insurance and real estate.
Read the full story.
The pandemic helped reverse Italy’s brain drain. But can it last?
When Elena Parisi, an engineer, left Italy at age 22 to pursue a career in London five years ago, she joined the vast ranks of talented Italians escaping a sluggish job market and lack of opportunities at home to find work abroad.
But in the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic forced employees around the world to work from home, Parisi, like many of her compatriots, seized on the opportunity to really go home, to Italy.
In between Zoom meetings and her other work for a recycling company in London, she took long strolls on the beach near her family’s home in Palermo, Sicily, and talked recipes at dawn with vendors in the local market.
“The quality of life is a thousand, thousand times better here,” said Parisi, who is now in Rome.
As with so many things, the virus has upended a familiar phenomenon — this time Italy’s long-standing brain drain. How much things are changing, and how permanent those changes will be, are a source of debate in the country. But something is clearly different.
Italy, along with Romania and Poland, is among the European countries that send the most workers abroad, according to figures from the European Commission. And the proportion of Italians living abroad who have a university degree is higher than that of Italy’s general population.
Taking into account the money the country spends on their education, Italy’s brain drain costs the country an estimated 14 billion euros (about $17 billion) every year, according to Confindustria, Italy’s biggest business association.
Italian lawmakers had long tried attracting back talented workers with tax breaks, but a grim job market, high unemployment, a baroque bureaucracy and narrow avenues for advancement continued to draw many Italian graduates abroad.
Then the virus seemed to do what years of incentives could not.
Read the full story.
Queen Elizabeth II and husband receive COVID-19 vaccinations
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, have received their COVID-19 vaccinations, royal officials said Saturday.
Buckingham Palace officials said in a statement that the 94-year-old monarch and Philip, 99, received their jabs Saturday, joining some 1.5 million people in Britain who have been given a first dose of a vaccine.
The injections were administered at Windsor Castle, where the queen and her husband have been spending their time during the lockdown in England.
Royal officials said they took the rare step of commenting on the monarch’s health in order to prevent inaccuracies and further speculation. The queen “decided that she would let it be known she has had the vaccination,” the palace statement said.
On Dec. 8, Britain became the world’s first country to begin a mass vaccination drive against the coronavirus. The government says it is aiming to deliver the first vaccine doses to some 15 million people in the top priority groups by the middle of February.
That includes everyone over age 70, as well as frontline health care workers, care home residents and anyone whose health makes them especially vulnerable to the virus.
French vaccine rollout slowed by red tape, focus on elderly
The few hours it took to give the first coronavirus vaccine shots to 14 residents of the John XXIII nursing home — named after a pope and not far from the birthplace in eastern France of vaccine pioneer Louis Pasteur — took weeks of preparation.
The home’s director, Samuel Robbe, first had to chew his way through a dense 61-page vaccination protocol, one of several hefty guides from the French government that exhaustively detail how to proceed, down to the number of times (10) that each flask of vaccine should be turned upside down to mix its contents.
“Delicately,” the booklet stipulates. “Do not shake.”
As France tries to figure out why its vaccination campaign launched so slowly, the answer lies partly in forests of red tape and the decision to prioritize vulnerable older people in nursing homes. They are perhaps the toughest group to start with, because of the need for informed consent and difficulties explaining the complex science of fast-tracked vaccines.
Read the full story here.
Virus collides with politics as German election year starts
The coronavirus pandemic is colliding with politics as Germany embarks on its vaccination drive and one of the most unpredictable election years in the country’s post-World War II history.
After months of relatively harmonious pandemic management, fingers are being pointed as the center-left junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government takes aim at what it says has been a chaotic start to vaccinating the population.
The discord is likely a sign of the times to come. An electoral marathon in Germany starts in mid-March, when two of six state elections scheduled this year will be held, and culminates on Sept. 26, when voters choose a new national parliament. Germany’s choices will help set the tone for Europe in the coming years.
Merkel, who has led Germany since 2005, plans to step down at the September election. It’s the first election since post-war West Germany’s inaugural vote in 1949 in which there is no incumbent chancellor seeking another term.
Surveys have shown high approval ratings for the 66-year-old Merkel during the pandemic. She has taken a science-led, safety-first approach that has helped her center-right party into a strong poll lead, although Germany has struggled since the fall to get the coronavirus under control.
Read the full story here.
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