Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Nov. 12, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
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.
Gov. Jay Inslee and Trudi Inslee will address Washingtonians at 5:30 p.m. today with an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
Feds announce COVID-19 vaccine agreement with drug stores
WASHINGTON — Federal health officials have reached an agreement with pharmacies across the U.S. to distribute free coronavirus vaccines after they are approved and become available to the public.
The goal eventually is to make getting a COVID-19 vaccine like getting a flu shot.
Thursday’s agreement with major chain drug stores, grocery market pharmacies and other chains and networks covers about 3 in 5 pharmacies in all 50 states and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico. It looks ahead to a time next spring when yet-to-be-approved vaccines will start to become available beyond priority groups such as health care workers and nursing home residents.
“The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, calling the agreement “a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are available.”
The announcement comes as the nation is seeing its broadest virus surge of the pandemic and President Donald Trump has put the brakes on agency collaboration with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. New COVID-19 cases surpassed 127,000 on Wednesday, an increase of nearly 75% from two weeks ago. More than 60,000 Americans are hospitalized and deaths are rising.
Oregon shatters COVID-19 daily case record after Halloween
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon tallied 1,122 new confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, shattering its previous record and blowing past more than 1,000 new daily cases for the first time as the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly statewide. Four new deaths were reported.
The previous daily record was 988 on Saturday. The percent of people testing positive was nearly 12% statewide, more than double what it was over the summer months, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority. And Multnomah County, home to Portland, had 350 cases on Thursday, breaking Wednesday’s record of nearly 300 cases.
A portion of the new cases this week are attributable to at least five Halloween parties, including one that had 100 guests, state health authorities said. The source of many new cases announced Thursday is still being investigated.
Thursday’s report brings the total number of cases to 53,779 and the total number of deaths to 746. Between Nov. 2 and Nov. 8, the state saw a 46% increase in the number of cases over the previous week’s tally, health officials said.
Several major hospitals in Portland have begun curtailing elective surgeries this week amid the surge.
Virus survivor: Double lung transplant ‘a walking miracle’
PHOENIX — Arthur Sanchez’s memories of his monthslong hospital stays are hazy but he hasn’t forgotten how it felt when COVID-19 took away his ability to breathe.
“I would probably compare it to being underwater too long and not being able to come up for air,” Sanchez said while standing behind a lectern. “It’s a scary situation to be in.”
Seven months after he was first hospitalized with the coronavirus in his hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the 52-year-old utility worker has a brand new set of lungs. Doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix — where the August transplant took place and where he has since been in rehabilitation — are expected to release Sanchez on Saturday. He is the first of two double lung transplants the hospital has performed on coronavirus patients since the pandemic began.
Sanchez on Thursday called himself a “walking miracle” while speaking virtually to reporters. He wore a T-shirt that said “Sanchez Strong.”
“I was always going to fight for my family, for my girls,” he said, referring to his two adult daughters. “I’m not afraid to die because I have a strong belief in God but I hate to leave them behind. That’s my greatest fear.”
Coronavirus deaths surpass 10,000 in hard-hit Massachusetts
BOSTON — Once a coronavirus hot spot, Massachusetts was seen as a model for infection control this summer as coronavirus cases and deaths dwindled. Now, experts are warning the state could be headed for a bleak winter as its cases climb once again and confirmed deaths surpass 10,000.
Amid growing calls for action, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker recently tightened restrictions but has resisted taking more drastic measures such as halting indoor dining. The governor insists Massachusetts is better prepared than it was in the spring, but says if the trends continue it will only be a matter of time before the state’s hospitals are once again stressed under a flood of patients.
“We know how close we got to a completely overwhelmed health care system in the spring and we are not willing to go there again,” said Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center.
Massachusetts hit 10,015 confirmed coronavirus deaths on Thursday, nearly nine months after the state’s initial case was detected. Confirmed cases have topped 174,000 and the number of cities and towns designated as “high risk” nearly doubled over a two-week period last month.
South Korea starts fining people not wearing masks
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in COVID-19 cases in 70 days as the government began fining people who fail to wear masks in public.
The 191 cases added to the country’s caseload Friday represented the sixth consecutive day of over 100 and the highest daily increase since Sept. 4 when authorities reported 198 new infections.
More than 120 of the cases were from the Seoul metropolitan area, where the coronavirus has spread in a variety of places, including hospitals, nursing homes, churches, schools, restaurants and offices.
The steady spread of the virus has alarmed government officials, who eased social distancing measures to the lowest level since October to soften the pandemic’s shock on the economy.
While this has allowed high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bears to reopen, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during a virus meeting Friday said the viral spread could force the government to “seriously consider” tightening social distancing again.
“We are at a precarious situation,” he said, pleading for citizen vigilance and for labor unionists and civic groups to cancel planned rallies.
Washington state hospitals begin to implement COVID-19 surge plans as cases skyrocket
Hospitals in Washington state are preparing for a flood of coronavirus patients, demonstrating heightened concern as infections climb, a higher proportion of tests return positive and more people are admitted to the hospital for COVID-19.
“Hospitals are implementing their surge plans, making plans to start canceling some procedures, calling in extra staff and trying to get extra staff, which is challenging,” said Cassie Sauer, chief executive of the Washington State Hospital Association. Some hospitals have limited visitation.
The surge response, at least initially, will look different from last spring, when Gov. Jay Inslee halted all elective procedures.
Rather than widespread cancellations, UW Medicine told staffers it planned to triage elective surgeries and procedures and balance the use of telemedicine with in-person visits.
A third of the world’s air routes have been lost due to COVID-19
Before the coronavirus, a decades-long aviation boom spawned a network of nearly 50,000 air routes that traversed the world. In less than a year, the pandemic has wiped almost a third of them off the map.
Border closures, nationwide lockdowns and the fear of catching COVID-19 from fellow passengers have crippled commercial travel. As thousands of domestic and international connections disappear completely from airline timetables, the world has suddenly stopped shrinking.
The crisis is unwinding a vast social and industrial overhaul that took place during half a century of air-travel proliferation. In years to come, overseas business trips and holidays will likely mean more airport stopovers, longer journey times and perhaps an additional mode of transport. Even when an effective vaccine is found, the economic reality of the recovery may mean some nonstop flights are gone for good.
With borders effectively shut from Europe to New Zealand, the bulk of the world’s dropped routes are inevitably cross-border. But thousands of domestic legs have also been axed, reflecting the pressure airlines face at home as they cut jobs and retire aircraft to find a cost base that reflects their shrunken situation.
In late January, 47,756 operational routes crisscrossed the world, more than half of them in the U.S., Western Europe and Northeast Asia, according to OAG Aviation Worldwide. By Nov. 2, there were just 33,416 routes on global schedules, the data shows.
Gates Foundation adds $70 million for COVID-19 vaccines in poor countries
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is anteing up an additional $70 million to help develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines in low-income countries, at what the foundation’s CEO describes as an “auspicious” time.
The news this week that an experimental vaccine from Pfizer might be 90 percent effective against the novel coronavirus “makes us hopeful about a number of other vaccine products in the pipeline,” Mark Suzman said in a briefing with journalists Thursday reported by Reuters. “But there’s still a long way to go between that and getting vaccines approved, and then into people who need them at the scale and with the kind of equitable global distribution we really need to bring the virus under control.”
Some $50 million of the new funding will go to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, a fund established by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to ensure access to and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in 92 low- and middle-income countries.
The donation will unlock a $16.2 million matching pledge from the U.K. government. France, the European Union and Spain also announced pledges totaling nearly $300 million.
The other $20 million from Gates will go the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, or CEPI, which has been funding research and development on a promising suite of vaccine candidates.
Department of Labor & Industries fines agriculture companies over COVID-19 violations
The Washington state Department of Labor & Industries found violations related to COVID-19 and other health and safety rules in 34% of this year’s 384 agricultural workplace inspections.
The inspections came in a year when the coronavirus pandemic spurred concerns that farmworkers, some of who reside temporarily housing, would be at elevated risk of contracting the virus as they carried on what has been deemed essential work.
More than 20 agricultural businesses were cited for serious violations of COVID-19 safety rules, and ten of those cases involved temporary housing.
The state L&I assessed the largest fines for violations of COVID 19 regulations against the following five companies:
- King Fuji Ranch Inc. of Mattawa was fined $13,500 due to shelter groups of workers in labor camps interacting with other shelter groups, and failing to properly isolate.
- Gebbers Farms Operations of Bridgeport was fined $13,200 for shelter groups in labor camps interacting with members of other groups, and a lack of barriers in the kitchen/cooking areas. An investigation involving worker fatalities has yet to be completed.
- Evans Fruit Company of Sunnyside, Cowiche and Tieton was fined $6,600 for workers who were found during inspections not to be wearing face masks, taking temperatures or social distancing.
- Agrilabor of Benton City was fined $5,400 for labor camp beds not being paced six feet apart.
- 7Point Holdings, of Elma, was fined $3,300 for employees not wearing masks or social distancing. This company operates as Northwest Cannabis Solutions.
Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young, dean of the House, tests positive for coronavirus
Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, the dean of the House as its longest-serving member, revealed in a tweet that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I have tested positive for COVID-19. I am feeling strong, following proper protocols, working from home in Alaska, and ask for privacy at this time. May God Bless Alaska,” Young tweeted.
Young, known for his salty and gruff demeanor, is also the oldest member of the House at 87, putting him at high risk for COVID complications.
The octogenarian was reelected to a 25th term in Congress last week. For a time, Young was chairperson of the once-powerful House Transportation Committee, when earmarks made you king. He directed money home for projects, perhaps most famously one connecting mainland Alaska to a small island of 50 people and an airport that became dubbed “the Bridge to Nowhere.”
Young downplayed the coronavirus in its early days, calling it the “beer virus,” a seeming reference to Corona beer.
After the virus spread to Alaska, however, Young no longer mocked it, but he still held in-person fundraising events and didn’t require attendees to wear masks.
Inslee urges families to avoid social gatherings on Thanksgiving as Washington cases surge
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday urged Washingtonians to cancel plans for social gatherings, including Thanksgiving and Christmas family get-togethers, citing rising COVID-19 infections.
“Simply put, we must rethink these holidays,” Inslee said in a televised address.
Inslee and his wife, Trudi, said their own family would forgo its traditional in-person Thanksgiving tradition of a potluck, touch football and turkey sandwiches, due to the danger of the pandemic.
Inslee expressed confidence this would be a one-year sacrifice by families, saying a vaccine should be on the way by next year.
“But this year its just too dangerous to gather together indoors where the virus can spread so easily,” he said, adding, “we cannot wait until our hospital halls are lined with gurneys before we take decisive action.”
The governor could announce new restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus as early as next week, according to his office, as confirmed cases of the virus soar across Washington and around the nation.
Costco announces change in its COVID-19 face-mask policy
Costco is now requiring all shoppers and employees to wear a face mask or face shield while in its stores, the Issaquah-based retailer announced this week in its updated COVID-19 plan.
Costco, which implemented its face-mask policy in May, previously exempted anyone with a medical condition from wearing a mask. In a Tuesday statement, Costco president and CEO Craig Jelinek said that was no longer the case.
If a shopper has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, Jelinek wrote, they must now wear a face shield while inside the store. If they don't have a face covering, they won't be allowed inside, he wrote.
The change, which only exempts children younger than 2 years old, will go into effect Nov. 16.
"This updated policy may seem inconvenient to some, however we believe the added safety is worth any inconvenience," Jelinek wrote. "Our goal is to continue to provide a safe shopping environment for our members and guests, and to provide a safe work environment for our employees."
For more information about Costco's COVID-19 policies, click here.
Trump, stewing over election loss, silent as virus surges
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has publicly disengaged from the battle against the coronavirus at a moment when the disease is tearing across the United States at an alarming pace.
Trump, fresh off his reelection loss to President-elect Joe Biden, remains angry that an announcement about progress in developing a vaccine for the disease came after Election Day. And aides say the president has shown little interest in the growing crisis even as new confirmed cases are skyrocketing and hospitals intensive care units in parts of the country are nearing capacity.
Public health experts worry that Trump’s refusal to take aggressive action on the pandemic or to coordinate with the Biden team during the final two months of his presidency will only worsen the effects of the virus and hinder the nation’s ability to swiftly distribute a vaccine next year.
The White House coronavirus task force held its first post-election meeting Monday. Officials discussed the rising case numbers, the promise of a vaccine in development by Pfizer, and recognized the service of Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, a member of the task force who retired Monday.
Democrats allege GOP refusal to accept election results is imperiling U.S. coronavirus response as cases, deaths spike
WASHINGTON – Congressional Democratic leaders accused Republicans on Thursday of refusing to confront the dramatically worsening coronavirus pandemic and instead acquiescing to President Donald Trump’s false insistence that he won last week’s presidential election.
Republicans dismissed the attacks and Trump didn’t weigh in at all, with his only public comments coming through a series of Twitter posts that included false claims of electoral success. As Washington has become paralyzed over the past 10 days, 1 million new people have tested positive for the virus as death numbers are climbing rapidly.
President-elect Joe Biden joined congressional Democratic leaders on Thursday and demanded a new economic relief package to address the dramatically worsening coronavirus pandemic before the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flatly rejected such a proposal, while Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, implored both sides to begin negotiating as the virus appeared to be sending a new shudder through the U.S. economy.
Ivy League cancels winter sports as coronavius pandemic worsens
The Ivy League is canceling its winter sports seasons, becoming the first Division I college athletics conference to do so, the conference announced Thursday.
The league – composed of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale – made its decision amid an unprecedented spike in the pandemic nationally.
New coronavirus cases in the United States reached a record total of 145,835 on Wednesday, a number that was on track to be topped Thursday.
“Consistent with its commitment to safeguard the health and well-being of student-athletes, the greater campus community and general public, the Ivy League Council of Presidents has decided that league schools will not conduct intercollegiate athletics competition in winter sports during the 2020-21 season.
In addition, the Ivy League will not conduct competition for fall sports during the upcoming spring semester. Lastly, intercollegiate athletics competition for spring sports is postponed through at least the end of February 2021,” the conference announced.
State confirms 3,345 new COVID-19 cases -- 976 in King County -- and 25 new deaths over last two days
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,345 new COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, and 25 new deaths.
In King County, the state’s most populous, 976 new cases were reported.
The update brings the state’s totals to 123,356 cases and 2,507 deaths, meaning that 2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, when cases were not reported for the Veterans Day holiday.
The DOH also reported that 9,178 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus-- 86 new hospitalizations since Tuesday.
Statewide, 2,694,170 COVID-19 tests have been administered as of Tuesday.
In King County, state health officials have confirmed a total of 32,473 COVID-19 diagnoses and 838 deaths.
Clark County health officials report small COVID-19 outbreak at county jail
Seven new cases of COVID-19, all of which were contained within one housing unit, were reported at the Clark County Jail this week, according to a Thursday statement from the county sheriff's office.
Those who tested positive for the virus have been transferred to the jail's "negative air flow" medical housing area, the statement said. Separately, four staff members have also tested positive over the past two weeks, according to the sheriff's office.
The staffers are receiving treatment from their health care providers and will return to work when approved by their doctors.
"We have been expecting an increase in COVID-19 cases in the inmate population as cases increase in the community," Chief Corrections Deputy Ric Bishop said in the statement.
Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and public health director, added in the statement that the public health department is taking steps to ensure the virus doesn't spread among the jail population.
In addition to requiring inmates and staff to wear face coverings since April, the jail also screens people when they arrive, separates intake housing for new inmates, only allows video and telephone visiting for families, the statement said.
In King County, 31 adult inmates and one juvenile in detention have tested positive for COVID-19, according to county health reports updated Thursday.
This modest German Turkish couple’s coronavirus vaccine candidate has made them billionaires
BERLIN — At 8 p.m. Sunda, the phone rang with the call Ugur Sahin, chief executive of the German medical startup BioNTech, had been anxiously awaiting.
“Are you sitting down?” Pfizer chief Albert Bourla asked him.
The news that followed was better than Sahin had hoped: Preliminary analysis from Phase 3 trials of his company’s coronavirus vaccine showed 90 percent protection.
“I was more than excited,” said Sahin, speaking to The Washington Post over video call from his home in the western German city of Mainz.
The interim results put the 55-year-old and his co-founder wife, Ozlem Tureci, in the front of the pack racing for a safe and effective vaccine. Global markets rallied, and stock soared for BioNTech — a small-by-pharma-industry-standards company that has yet to see a vaccine using its technology brought to market. For the corona-weary masses, it was a much-needed glimpse of a potential end in sight.
Sahin and Tureci celebrated with cups of Turkish tea at home. There weren’t many other options, with Germany under a new coronavirus lockdown. But it was also typical of the couple, who are intensely driven in their work yet understated in their personal lives.
The husband-and-wife team behind one of the world’s top coronavirus vaccine candidates are the sort of people who don’t own a car and who took the morning off for their wedding day in 2002 before returning to the lab. Half a day was “sufficient,” Tureci explained.
South Africa reopens to foreign travelers amid virus creep
In an effort to revive its tourism industry, South Africa has opened up international travel to visitors from all countries providing they produce negative COVID-19 test results, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.
This step, making South Africa one of the world’s countries most open to international travel, comes as cases of the disease are slowly increasing in the country. Ramaphosa said his government will closely monitor any signs that international visitors increase transmission rates.
After closing its borders as part of one of the world’s strictest lockdowns imposed at the end of March, South Africa has gradually reopened, resuming international flights on Oct. 1 but not admitting travelers from countries with high infection levels. Now that restriction has been removed, Ramaphosa said.
With a cumulative total of more than 740,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including just over 20,000 deaths, South Africa has nearly 40% of Africa’s total number of more than 1.9 million reported cases, including 46,272 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
UW football opponent Oregon State reports positive COVID-19 case; Saturday's game still on track
On Thursday, Oregon State announced that one player has tested positive for COVID-19 and three more are in quarantine.
But confidence remains that UW's season opener on Saturday night will be played.
The positive case occurred on Monday and the football team has had zero positive antigen tests since, according to athletics director Scott Barnes.
“We are absolutely playing Saturday, so no issue there,” Barnes told The Oregonian.
A source also indicated UW’s administration remains confident Saturday's game will go on.
Post-election warfare clouds chances for COVID relief bill
President-elect Joe Biden’s top allies on Capitol Hill adopted a combative posture on COVID-19 relief on Thursday, accusing Washington Republicans of dragging their feet in acknowledging Biden’s victory while doubling down on a $2 trillion-plus relief bill that’s a nonstarter with congressional Republicans.
The message from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — both of whom witnessed disappointing outcomes in House and Senate races last week — was that Republicans should concede the presidential election was won by Biden and immediately return to negotiations on COVID relief, with the Democrats’ $2.4 trillion “HEROES Act” as the starting point.
The continued battling comes as caseloads are spiking across the country in a third wave of the pandemic that is threatening a dangerous winter, despite advances in vaccine development and treatments to fight it the disease. The rebound of the economy has been relatively strong so far, but both sides agree more help is needed — even as they spar over specifics like jobless assistance and the means to distribute treatments and vaccines.
Now you can see the COVID-19 risk anywhere in the country, in real time
How likely is it you’ll encounter at least one person who is infected with the coronavirus if you go to a bar in Denver? What about a 100-person wedding in Baltimore? Or a Thanksgiving dinner with 25 guests in Los Angeles?
The answers to these questions — and many more — can be found on the free, intuitive and now peer-reviewed COVID-19 Risk Assessment Planning Tool.
The COVID-19 Risk Assessment Planning Tool was conceived in March by Joshua Weitz, a quantitative biologist at Georgia Tech who wanted an easy way to quantify the risk of attending events of various sizes in different locations.
The tool will tell you that if the gathering were held today, there is an 8% chance someone will bring the virus along with a pair of novelty socks. What it can’t tell you, however, is whether an 8% chance of sharing space with someone capable of infecting you is too high to make your attendance worthwhile.
That decision is up to you.
Japanese automaker Nissan posts loss amid pandemic, scandal
Nissan posted a loss of 44.4 billion yen ($421 million) in the last quarter as the pandemic slammed profitability and the Japanese automaker fought to restore a brand image tarnished by a scandal centered on its former star executive Carlos Ghosn.
Nissan Motor Co. had a profit of 59 billion yen in July-September of 2019.
Yokohama-based Nissan reported Thursday its quarterly sales dipped to 1.9 trillion yen ($18 billion) from 2.6 trillion yen a year earlier.
Nissan officials said its global sales are expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels by December, if improvements continue at the current pace.
Unwelcome milestone: California nears million COVID-19 cases
A month ago, Antonio Gomez III was a healthy 46-year-old struggling like so many others to balance work and parenting during the coronavirus pandemic.
This week, he’s struggling to breathe after a three-week bout with the virus.
Gomez said he let down his guard to see his parents -- he was worried they were getting depressed -- and contracted one of the nearly 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California, ending up in the hospital.
California will be the second state — behind Texas — to eclipse a million known cases. The grim milestone in a state of 40 million comes as the U.S. has surpassed 10 million infections.
“I absolutely believe I made the wrong decision to allow (my parents) to come,” Gomez said. “I really want people to think twice, to know the real risks to getting together with family for even a few hours on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. The real consequence is that not just for family and friends, but for society and everybody that’s trying to fight this.”
Trump adviser Lewandowski tests positive for coronavirus
Senior Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski, who has been working on contesting election results, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Lewandowski is the most recent person in Trump's circle, including his chief of staff Mark Meadows, to contract the virus in the last week, The Hill reported Thursday.
Lewandowski was at a White House party on the night of the election and has since spent a few days in Pennsylvania to challenge the election outcome there. He said Thursday he believes he was infected in Philadelphia.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
COVID-19 case hits 1st Caribbean cruise since pandemic
One of the first cruise ships to ply through Caribbean waters since the pandemic began ended its trip early after one passenger fell ill and is believed to have COVID-19, officials said Thursday.
The SeaDream is carrying 53 passengers and 66 crew, with the majority of passengers hailing from the U.S., according to Sue Bryant, who is aboard the ship and is a cruise editor for The Times and The Sunday Times in Britain.
She told The Associated Press that one passenger became sick on Wednesday and forced the ship to turn back to Barbados, where it had departed from on Saturday.
The incident marked the first time SeaDream had resumed its West Indies voyages since the pandemic,
Waters around the Caribbean have been largely bereft of cruise ships this year, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspending cruise ship operations at U.S. ports in mid-March. The no-sail order expired on Oct. 31, but Cruise Lines International Association — which includes cruise giants Princess, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean — announced a voluntarily suspension of cruise operations in the U.S. through the end of the year.
India announces $35 billion economic stimulus package
India’s finance minister on Thursday announced a $35.14 billion package to stimulate the economy by boosting jobs, consumer demand, manufacturing, agriculture and exports hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Nirmala Sitharaman said the package includes 9 billion rupees ($121 million) for development of a COVID-19 vaccine by the government’s biotechnology department.
India’s economy contracted by 23.9% in the April-June quarter, its worst performance in at least 24 years as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged what was once the world’s fastest growing major economy.
Belgium exempts gift-bearing St. Nicholas from virus measures
To ensure the merriment of millions of children, the government of Belgium is offering a special exemption from the country’s strict coronavirus measures to beloved St. Nicholas, who always delivers bountiful presents on the morning of Dec. 6.
In a tongue-in-cheek letter Thursday, the Belgian health and interior ministers soothed the worries of children fearing they might go without presents this year. The officials said Nicholas wouldn’t have to quarantine after arriving in Belgium from Spain, where he lives, and would be able to walk rooftops to drop gifts into chimneys even during curfew hours.
With Belgium one of the European countries hit worst by the coronavirus, the government is enforcing a nightly curfew, tough quarantine rules and other measures to curb infections. The ministers cautioned St. Nicholas to “always respect distancing, wash hands regularly and wear a face mask,” despite his long white beard.
Wall Street scuffles as worsening pandemic slows its rally
U.S. stocks are scuffling Thursday amid worries about worsening coronavirus counts across the country.
The S&P 500 was 0.2% lower in morning trading, a rare stumble in what’s been a banner month for the benchmark index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 109 points, or 0.4%, at 28,288, as of 10:40 a.m. Eastern time, while the Nasdaq composite was ticking 0.5% higher.
Markets around the world are taking a pause after galloping higher this month, at first on expectations that Washington will continue several pro-business policies following last week’s U.S. elections. More recently, encouraging early results for a potential COVID-19 vaccine have investors envisioning a global economy returning to normal.
Analysts are still largely optimistic the market can climb even higher, largely because they see a potential vaccine as a game changer. The S&P 500 and Dow are both close to their record highs. But several risks remain that could trip up markets in the near term. Rising above them all is the continuing pandemic, with daily counts climbing in nearly every state across the country.
States ramp up for biggest vaccination effort in US history
With a COVID-19 vaccine drawing closer, public health officials across the country are gearing up for the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history — a monumental undertaking that must distribute hundreds of millions of doses, prioritize who’s first in line and ensure that people who get the initial shot return for the necessary second one.
The push could begin as early as next month, when federal officials say the first vaccine may be authorized for emergency use and immediately deployed to high-risk groups, such as health care workers.
“The cavalry is coming,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He said he hopes shots will be available to all Americans in April, May and June.
Pfizer also boosted hopes this week, saying early data suggests its vaccine is 90% effective. But the good news came in one of the grimmest weeks of the pandemic so far. Deaths, hospitalizations and new infections are surging across the U.S. — and turning up the pressure to get the vaccine effort right.
GOP congresswoman-elect from Iowa says she has COVID-19
A Republican congresswoman-elect who flipped an Iowa seat in last week’s election said Thursday that she tested positive for the coronavirus.
Ashley Hinson, a state representative and former television news anchor, said she learned of her positive test Wednesday night.
Her campaign said in a statement that Hinson, 37, feels great and is quarantining at her home in Marion. Hinson plans to speak with reporters on a conference call Friday and will attend an orientation for incoming members of Congress virtually, her campaign said.
Coronavirus spread in minks could speed mutations, says EU agency
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has issued new guidance to curb the spread of the coronavirus between minks and humans, warning that the transmission of COVID-19 among animals could speed up the number of mutations in the virus before it potentially jumps back to people.
In a statement on Thursday, the ECDC said that when COVID-19 starts spreading on a mink farm, the large numbers of animal infections means “the virus can accumulate mutations more quickly in minks and spread back into the human population.”
Earlier this month, Denmark reported that 12 people were sickened by a variant of the coronavirus that had distinct genetic changes also seen in mink. The country began culling millions of minks in the north after reports of COVID-19 infection, and plans to cull all 15 million of the animals in Danish farms. Nationally, at least 216 of the 1,139 fur farms in Denmark have been infected with the coronavirus.
To date, none of the identified mutations have changed anything about COVID-19’s transmissibility or lethality.
But the ECDC said allowing the coronavirus to spread within minks could have worrisome consequences, explaining that “the establishment of a virus reservoir among minks may give rise to problematic virus variants in the future.”
Fresno’s mayor-elect has COVID-19 after attending party
Fresno’s mayor-elect, Jerry Dyer, has tested positive for COVID-19 after attending an election night dinner with a few officials, including a Fresno County supervisor whose diagnosis late last week prompted the Board of Supervisors to close its offices and postpone its meeting by a week.
The former police chief told the Fresno Bee he went into quarantine after receiving the test result Tuesday. Dyer said he took the test after experiencing a light cough and that his symptoms developed with a headache, body aches, chills and a mild fever.
Dyer attended the dinner on Nov. 3 with Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, City Councilman Mike Karbassi, county Supervisor Steve Brandau. and several others at the home of a Kaiser Permanente government affairs manager Serop Torossian.
Karbassi said he should have been more careful at the dinner on election night and warned the community not to let its guard down.
709,000 seek US jobless aid as pandemic escalates
The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week to 709,000, a still-high level but the lowest figure since March and a further sign that the job market might be slowly healing.
Yet the improvement will be put at risk by the sharp resurgence in confirmed viral infections to an all-time high well above 120,000 a day. Cases are rising in 49 states, and deaths are increasing in 39. The nation has now recorded 240,000 virus-related deaths and 10.3 million confirmed infections.
As colder weather sets in and fear of the virus escalates, consumers may turn more cautious about traveling, shopping, dining out and visiting gyms, barber shops and retailers. Companies in many sectors could cut jobs or workers’ hours. In recent days, the virus’ resurgence has triggered tighter restrictions on businesses, mostly restaurants and bars, in a range of states, including Texas, New York, Maryland, and Oregon.
In Washington state, initial unemployment claims rose to 29,244, a 55% increase from the previous week, according to the federal Department of Labor. The state Employment Security Department reports its own data on unemployment claims later today; those figures often differ from the federal numbers.
So far, the spike in viral cases hasn’t triggered a wave of new layoffs. The number of applications for unemployment insurance fell last week in 29 states, including such hot spots as Wisconsin and Illinois. At the same time, the figure jumped by more than 5,000 in California, 10,000 in Washington State and 2,800 in Massachusetts.
The number of people who are continuing to receive traditional unemployment benefits fell to 6.8 million, the government said, from 7.2 million.
At dinner parties and game nights, casual American life is fueling the coronavirus surge
A record-breaking surge in U.S. coronavirus cases is being driven to a significant degree by casual occasions that may feel deceptively safe, officials and scientists warn — dinner parties, game nights, sleepovers and carpools.
Many earlier coronavirus clusters were linked to nursing homes and crowded nightclubs. But public health officials nationwide say case investigations are increasingly leading them to small, private social gatherings. This behind-doors transmission trend reflects pandemic fatigue and widening social bubbles, experts say — and is particularly insidious because it is so difficult to police and likely to increase as temperatures drop and holidays approach.
“Earlier in the outbreak, much of the growth in new daily cases was being driven by focal outbreaks — long-term care facilities, things of that nature,” said Nirav Shah, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine, where cases have soared in the past two weeks. “Now, the kitchen table is a place of risk.”
What places in U.S. are hardest hit by the coronavirus? It depends on the measure
The coronavirus is tearing across the United States at an alarming pace. Hospitals are filled to perilous levels. More than 120,000 new cases are being identified every day. And ever higher and more miserable records — of states’ cases, of positive testing rates, of hospitalizations — are being set, day after day.
A pandemic that was once raging in New York and later across the Sun Belt is now spread so widely across the country that any number of cities and states might now be considered the worst off, depending on the measurement used.
The Minot, North Dakota, area has seen more cases per capita in this upsurge than anywhere in the country. Wisconsin’s outbreak has escalated more rapidly than those in other states. The county that includes Los Angeles has reported more COVID-19 cases since the pandemic’s start than anywhere else. Texas has the most cases of any state, and the most cases reported on college campuses.
The list of deeply troubled locations — each with its own, different gauge of the problem — goes on and on. If anything, the sheer number of hot spots comes as a reminder of how widespread this outbreak has grown.
Read the story here.
Five best comfort foods: Here are favorite dishes from local restaurants to warm us in these shivery, dark days — including a mac-and-cheese burger.
The streaming movie "Come Away" tries to entice you into the magic of a child's world, but alas, our critic is not enchanted.
If you could sum up 2020 with a dance, what would it be? Seattle-area artists answer that question in a virtual dance fest, streaming tonight, that celebrates Indigenous and Black culture.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
More than 30 million N95 masks sit in a Washington warehouse — enough to provide every one of the state’s health care workers nearly 100 masks each. But nearly all of Washington’s hospitals are reusing their N95s or otherwise conserving supply as COVID-19 cases spike. Why? Read the Times Watchdog story.
Masks, even cloth ones, don't just protect the people around you — they protect you, too, the CDC said in a reversal as it endorsed universal masking policies. Here's the research on the best kinds of masks. And yes, yours does need to cover your nose.
The virus crept silently among Marine recruits in isolation on a college campus, despite daily temperature and symptom checks. Test results at the end of their quarantine illustrate how these commonly used measures are so inadequate for spotting the virus that "we don’t even realize it is occurring," one study found.
Major hospitals in Oregon are postponing elective surgeries to make way for COVID-19 patients. That may not be too extreme, given what's happening across the ocean: In some parts of Italy, hospitals are at a breaking point with more than 75% of the beds holding coronavirus patients.
A healthy man who let his guard down just long enough to see his parents is among the patients setting California on track to surpass a million confirmed cases, the second state to do so. For Antonio Gomez III and his family, the outcome was tragic.
Will the Huskies' COVID-delayed football season opener finally happen this Saturday against Oregon State? Never before has a UW opener been so anticipated, columnist Larry Stone writes. But players are on shaky ground as coronavirus cases rise in UW's athletics department, leading the baseball program to pause workouts.
Italian hospitals face breaking point in fall virus surge
Dr. Luca Cabrini was certain his hospital in the heart of Lombardy‘s lake district would reach its breaking point caring for 300 COVID-19 patients. So far, virus patients fill 500 beds and counting.
As dire as Italy’s ICU situation is once again, it’s not critical care that is most worrying doctors during the pandemic’s autumn resurgence. It’s sub-intensive and infectious disease wards caring for less gravely ill patients, who are often younger and sometimes require care for longer periods. The Italian doctors federation called this week for a nationwide lockdown to forestall a collapse of the medical system, marked by the closure of non-emergency procedures.
As of Wednesday, 52% of Italy’s hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, above the 40% warning threshold set by the Health Ministry. Nine of Italy’s 21 regions and autonomous provinces are already securely in the red-alert zone, above 50% virus occupancy, with Lombardy at 75%, Piedmont at 92% and South Tyrol at an astonishing 99%.
“We are very close to not keeping up. I cannot say when we will reach the limit, but that day is not far off,’’ said Cabrini, who runs the intensive care ward at Varese’s Circolo hospital, the largest in the province of 1 million people northwest of Milan.
Read the story here.
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