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Citing error in disease reporting system, state DOH doesn’t post new COVID-19 numbers

Washington state health officials said late Sunday that an error in the state’s disease reporting system prevented an update to its data dashboard. The glitch follows a backlog of tens of thousands of test results that were not included in recent case counts.

“It looks like it’s probably going to be tomorrow before they’ll be able to update the dashboards,” state Department of Health (DOH) spokesperson Frank Ameduri said Sunday.

As of Saturday, DOH officials cited a backlog of at least 53,000 results, including positive and negative COVID-19 tests and some for other diseases. The backlog is largely due to a spike in COVID-19 testing leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, officials said.

Officials said the state’s disease reporting system has the capacity to process about 33,000 test results per day; DOH is currently receiving 30,000 to 50,000 results each day. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 2.9 million tests have been administered.

As of Saturday’s update, the state had logged a total of 141,260 cases, according to the DOH data dashboard. And 9,765 people have been hospitalized due to coronavirus. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Friday.

DOH does not report deaths on weekends. As of Friday’s update, 2,619 people had died of COVID-19 in Washington state, meaning 1.9% of people diagnosed in the state have died.

—Hannah Furfaro

LA County suspends outdoor dining at restaurants as coronavirus surges

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County public health officials on Sunday announced they will issue an order suspending outdoor dining at restaurants amid a surge of new coronavirus cases.

The new rule takes effect at 10 p.m. Wednesday and restricts restaurants, along with breweries, wineries and bars, to takeout and delivery only for the first time since May. They will remain in place for at least three weeks, officials said.

Wineries and breweries can continue retail operations.

“The persistent high number of cases requires additional safety measures that limit mixing in settings where people are not wearing masks,” Barbara Ferrer, the L.A. County health director, said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

—Los Angeles Times

King County Superior Court suspends all in-person jury trials

For the second time since the novel coronavirus spread in Washington state, the King County Superior Court suspended all in-person jury trials starting Friday.

Court officials said in a news release that they would continue to monitor coronavirus numbers to determine how long the suspension would continue — they expected that monitoring process to continue through Jan. 11.

During this time, civil jury trials will continue virtually, as will trials without juries — in civil, family law, involuntary treatment and dependency. Criminal jury trials had been held in-person and are now suspended.

Read the full story here.

—Joy Resmovits

Apple Cup canceled as Washington State’s COVID-19 issues persist

The Apple Cup is canceled.

Three days after Washington State announced it could not meet the 53-player scholarship threshold to participate in Saturday’s game at Stanford, next Friday’s rivalry game against Washington has also been called off.

“This decision was made under the Pac-12’s football policy due to Washington State not having the minimum number of scholarship players available for the game as a result of a number of positive football student-athlete COVID-19 cases and resulting isolation of additional football student-athletes under contact tracing protocols,” a Pac-12 statement read. “Under Conference policy, the game will be declared a no contest.”

It’s possible the game could be made up on Dec. 19, but that would require Washington to not be playing in the Pac-12 Championship game the day before. The sides could also meet if further cancellations create a simultaneous opening in their schedules.

Read the full story here.

—Mike Vorel

Thanksgiving week travel estimates down about 20% from last week following government guidance to stay home

It seems that government travel warnings are making a dent: over Thanksgiving week, passenger travel estimates in Seattle are down roughly 20% from last week, according to the federal Transportation Security Administration.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is now expecting 23,500 to 24,500 departing passengers each day in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. This follows new recommendations from officials at the Centers for Disease Control and state officials, who are urging people to stay home over a typically heavy travel week. During last year’s holiday season, upward of 65,000 people passed through Sea-Tac on peak travel days.

People are canceling or moving their travel plans, said Sea-Tac aviation communications manager Kate Hudson. For those who do choose to fly, she said, “we’ve put almost 300 hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the airport,” added touchless technology, ramped up cleaning schedules and put up signs reminding travelers to wear masks.

“The airport is supporting the guidance to avoid holiday travel,” she said. “If there are folks who are choosing to travel on trips that just couldn't wait, we are prepared for those folks.”

—Hannah Furfaro

Jury duty? No thanks say many, forcing trials to be delayed

Jury duty notices have set Nicholas Philbrook’s home on edge with worries about him contracting the coronavirus and passing it on to his father-in-law, a cancer survivor with diabetes in his mid-70s who is at higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19.

Philbrook and his wife, Heather Schmidt, of Camarillo, California, have been trying to convince court officials that he should be excused from jury duty because her father lives with them. But court officials told him that is not a valid reason and he must appear in court early next month.

“My main concern is you still have to go into a building, you still have to be around a set number of people,” said Philbrook, 39, a marketing company editor. “In an enclosed space, how safe are you? It just doesn’t feel like a right time still to be doing that kind of stuff on a normal basis.”

People across the country have similar concerns amid resurgences of the coronavirus, a fact that has derailed plans to resume jury trials in many courthouses for the first time since the pandemic started.

Within the past month, courts in Hartford, Connecticut, San Diego and Norfolk, Virginia, have had to delay jury selection for trials because too few people responded to jury duty summonses. The non-response rates are much higher now than they were before the pandemic, court officials say.

Judges in New York City, Indiana, Colorado and Missouri declared mistrials recently because people connected to the trials either tested positive for the virus or had symptoms.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Fear of flying is a COVID-era conundrum

The holidays are approaching just as COVID-19 case rates nationwide are increasing at a record-breaking pace, leading to dire warnings from public health experts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued cautions and updated guidelines related to family gatherings. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a White House coronavirus adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in interviews that his kids won’t be coming home for Thanksgiving because of coronavirus risks. “Relatives getting on a plane, being exposed in an airport,” he told CBS News. “And then walking in the door and saying ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ — that you have to be concerned about.”

Are Americans listening? Maybe not. Especially as airlines, reeling from major revenue blows since the pandemic took hold in March, tell passengers they can travel with peace of mind and sweeten the deal with special holiday fares.

The airlines argue more is now known about the virus and recent industry-sponsored studies show flying is just as safe as regular daily activities. They also tout policies such as mask mandates and enhanced cleaning to protect travelers from the coronavirus.

Time for a reality check.

—Kaiser Health News

Politics, Science and the Remarkable Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine

The call was tense, the message discouraging. Moncef Slaoui, the head of the Trump administration’s effort to quickly produce a vaccine for the coronavirus, was on the phone at 6 p.m. on Aug. 25 to tell upstart biotech firm Moderna that it had to slow the final stage of testing its vaccine in humans.

Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, a French biochemical engineer, recognized the implication. In the race to quell the pandemic, he said, “every day mattered.” Now his company, which had yet to bring a single product to market, faced a delay of up to three weeks. Pfizer, the global pharmaceutical giant that was busy testing a similar vaccine candidate and promising initial results by October, would take the obvious lead.

“It was the hardest decision I made this year,” Bancel said.

Moderna’s problem seemed fitting for late summer 2020, when the United States was reeling from not just a pandemic but unrest over racial injustice. Slaoui informed Bancel that Moderna had not recruited enough minority candidates into its vaccine trials. If it could not prove its vaccine worked well for Black and Hispanic Americans, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, it would not make it over the finish line.

Both companies ultimately completed the crucial stages of their human trials this month and reported spectacular initial results, vaccines that appear to be about 95% effective against a virus that has killed 1.3 million people, a quarter million of them in the United States.

Few corporate competitions have unfolded with so much at stake and such a complex backdrop. At play were not just commercial rivalries and scientific challenges but an ambitious plan to put the federal government in the middle of the effort and, most vexingly, the often toxic political atmosphere created by President Donald Trump.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Business owners upbeat about vaccine, wary as virus spreads

Promising news about a coronavirus vaccine has small business owners feeling more upbeat despite cases of the virus surging in many parts of the U.S.

Owners hope consumers and businesses will be more relaxed about spending now that two drug companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have vaccines that data show were highly effective in testing. Some owners are rethinking their plans — some are holding off on staff cuts, while others say they’re more likely to renew their office leases even as employees still work from home.

But owners also realize many hurdles remain — the vaccines still require approval by the Food and Drug Administration, and then it will take time for millions of doses to be manufactured and widely distributed. It’s not clear how many people will decide to receive the vaccine, and in turn, how much of the population would be immune to the virus.

Meanwhile, the pandemic shows no signs of abating heading into the winter, prompting some state and local officials to increase restrictions on gatherings in public and private places. And regardless of what steps governments take, many people are limiting their activities as they fear contracting the virus.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

As U.S. coronavirus cases soar toward 200,000 a day, holiday travel is surging

Total coronavirus infections in the United States have topped 12 million, and cases are approaching 200,000 in a day, as health experts warn of an alarming new stage in the pandemic’s spread while Americans embark on holiday travel that could seed more outbreaks.

A fall wave of the virus ushered in by colder weather is only worsening, outpacing expansions in testing and making new nationwide records routine. The country passed 11 million cases just a week ago, and daily infections are on track to double since Nov. 4, when they exceeded 100,000 for the first time.

As Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, put it recently on MSNBC: “It’s almost exponential when you compare the curves in the spring and the curves in the summer with the inflection of the curve where we are right now.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Thursday against traveling and congregating for Thanksgiving, using its first news briefing in months to sound alarms over the massive case rise reported in the past week. The same day, the United States surpassed a quarter-million deaths related to COVID-19.

But more than 1 million people still passed through the country’s airports Friday in the second-highest single-day rush of travelers since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, even as air travel has dropped dramatically over this time last year. On the same date in 2019, more than 2.5 million people traveled through U.S. airports.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Russia’s health system under strain as the virus surges back

When Yekaterina Kobzeva, a nurse at a preschool in Russia’s Ural Mountains, began having trouble breathing, she called an ambulance. It was four days before she managed to find a free hospital bed.

The ambulance first took her to get a scan — which showed damage from pneumonia to 50% of her lungs, an indication she had coronavirus. The paramedics then drove her around the city of Perm and its surroundings for hours as seven hospitals, one by one, turned her down, saying they didn’t have any beds available. At dawn, she went home.

The journey took her through “circles of hell,” Kobzeva, 60, recalled in an interview with The Associated Press by phone from a hospital, where doctors confirmed she had the virus. She was only admitted there days after her first attempt — and after her story made local headlines.

Russia’s health care system, vast yet underfunded, has been under significant strains in recent weeks, as the pandemic surges again and daily infections and virus death regularly break records.

Across the country, 81% of hospital beds that have been set aside for coronavirus patients were full as of Wednesday. Three times last week, the Russian government reported a record number of daily deaths, and the number of daily new infections per 100,000 people has more than doubled since Oct. 1, from 6 to over 15. Overall, Russia has recorded over 2 million cases and over 35,000 deaths, but experts say all numbers worldwide understate the true toll of the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

UK leader to end England’s coronavirus lockdown on Dec. 2

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans for strict regional measures to combat COVID-19 after England’s lockdown ends Dec. 2, sparking a rebellion by members of his own party who say the move may do more harm than good.

Johnson’s office said late Saturday that the government plans to return to a three-tiered system of restrictions, with areas facing different measures depending on the severity of their outbreaks. Though it is likely that a much-criticized 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants will be altered, the tiers are likely to include tighter restrictions than when they were first used in October even as more communities are expected to be placed in the two highest virus alert categories.

Some of Johnson’s Conservative Party allies immediately demanded an impact analysis of the proposed restrictions so lawmakers can weigh the health benefits against harm to the economy, mental health and relationships.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Carson says he’s ‘out of the woods’ after battling COVID-19

Housing Secretary Ben Carson is crediting unapproved, experimental treatments with saving his life after he became “desperately ill” following his infection with the coronavirus.

There is no medical evidence that the treatments Carson cited worked.

A retired neurosurgeon, Carson said Friday that he believes he’s now “out of the woods.” He disclosed that his wife, Candy, also had COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes. Carson tested positive earlier this month.

Most people recover from the disease, which has killed more than 250,000 Americans and sickened more than 12 million, including President Donald Trump and members of his family.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Carson said he was “extremely sick” but saw “dramatic improvement” after taking a botanical treatment derived from the oleander plant. Carson said he has underlying conditions, which he did not specify, “and after a brief period when I only experienced minor discomfort, the symptoms accelerated and I became desperately ill.”

Carson said Trump was aware of his condition and “cleared me for the monoclonal antibody therapy that he had previously received, which I am convinced saved my life.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the last 24 hours

Nursing home outbreak: As the novel coronavirus strikes a record number of nursing homes and assisted living centers in Washington, a large facility in Seattle is experiencing a growing outbreak.

COVID-19 'changed everything': The novel coronavirus has forced agencies serving the needy to change the way they do things to meet those needs. The nonprofits’ efforts range from from matching children with mentors and helping those with developmental delays, to providing shelter to people who are homeless and offering mental health counseling. They seem to be succeeding. That’s in large part because of increased government funding and community generosity.

Community college program to the rescue: In some ways, Seattle Promise, which provides tuition-free community college, couldn’t have come at a better time. Despite the hurdles, the program has exceeded its pandemic-era enrollment projections. That’s even as nationally, community colleges saw a 22% dip; statewide, community college enrollment is down 13.5% this year.

—David Gutman