Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, November 17, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Biden administration is expected to announce its purchase of 10 million series of treatments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill this week. Officials said they hope the investment will help reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, as breakthrough cases increase across the country and 30% of U.S. adults remain vaccinated.

Washington D.C. officials plan to lift most indoor masking requirements starting next week due to a continuous downward trend of COVID-19. While masks will no longer be required in many indoor settings, people will still be required to mask up in schools, libraries, group-living facilities and while using public transportation.

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.


Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Job growth slows in Washington, even as it surges nationally

Eric Banh (l) and his wife Teresa Nguyen, owners of Ba Bar in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, go over something on Eric’s phone in their restaurant Tuesday, June 1, 2021.  Both Eric and Teresa have to work the front of the house because they can’t find servers, hosts, and chefs. They lost most of their employees when they had to shut down due to COVID and have not been able to replace them yet. 217268

The national job market may be rebounding, but hiring slowed in Washington in October, raising questions about the state’s recovery as it heads into its second pandemic winter. 

Employers in Washington added just 6,300 jobs last month, according to the October employment report released Wednesday from the state Employment Security Department. 

That’s down substantially from September’s revised number of 18,800 jobs and represents the smallest increase since May, when the state added just 2,700 jobs, according to the report. The state’s unemployment rate fell to 5%, down slightly from 5.1% in September.

To be fair, Washington’s dismal October numbers were heavily affected by the estimated loss of 9,300 education and other government jobs, a figure that may be lowered as more data comes in.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts
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Florida GOP limits vaccine mandates, flouting White House

Florida State Rep. Michael Grant, the Majority Leader, gestures as a proposed amendment to a bill is voted down, during a special legislative session considering bills targeting COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida lawmakers on Monday began debating a package of bills to combat coronavirus vaccine mandates, continuing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fight against virus rules. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Florida Republicans approved a sweeping bill Wednesday to hobble coronavirus vaccine mandates in businesses, rejecting claims that they were sacrificing public health to hand Gov. Ron DeSantis a win in his fight against White House virus rules.

Lawmakers in GOP-controlled statehouse expedited the measure, along with a package of virus bills, after hours of debate in which Republicans maintained they were protecting workers from onerous mandates by the federal government.

“If you want to get a vaccine, you can get a vaccine. If you don’t want to get a vaccine, you can choose not to get a vaccine,” said Sen. Danny Burgess, a Republican. “That’s the entire purpose of this bill, trusting Floridians and allowing us to make that choice for ourselves.”

DeSantis, a Republican, called the special legislative session on vaccine mandates as he wages a legal and media campaign against vaccine mandates pushed by Democratic President Joe Biden. The governor has become a star in the GOP through his opposition to lockdowns and other virus rules, boosting his profile as he runs for reelection and eyes a possible 2024 presidential run.

Read the full story here.

—Anthony Izaguirre, The Associated Press

State health officials confirm 2,189 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,189 new coronavirus cases and 27 new deaths on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 758,483 cases and 9,056 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

In addition, 41,969 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 150 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 170,118 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,039 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 10,338,652 doses and 61.1% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 32,063 vaccine shots per day.

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. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

How to evaluate online COVID-19 info: Fact, fiction or something in between

A veterinary package of ivermectin, a drug used to kill worms and other parasites. Health experts and medical groups are pushing to stamp out the growing human use of the drug to treat COVID-19, warning that it can cause harmful side effects and that there’s little evidence it helps. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

There are so many studies out there regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations for people to read and react to. How do we know/decide which study is accurate and worthwhile for patients and which studies aren’t when it comes to COVID-19?

“There is more information on the internet than anyone can digest,” says Melanie Swift, M.D., infectious disease physician at Mayo Clinic. “It can be difficult to know what to believe. Depending on who is running the website or sharing their interpretation of the medical studies, it may be reliable, but it might be a misinterpretation of the data or completely falsified information.”

Here are some tips:

• Studies that are indexed in PubMed, are published in reputable journals, and have undergone scientific peer review are reputable.

Read the full story here.

— Joel Streed, Mayo Clinic News Network
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White House: 10% of kids have been vaccinated in 1st 2 weeks

First lady Jill Biden, singer Ciara Princess Wilson, right, with her children Future Zahir, 7, Sienna Princess, 4, and Win Harrison Wilson, 1, watch from the White House balcony as President Joe Biden leaves the White House on Marine One on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Washington. Ciara visited the White House to promote COVID-19 vaccinations for young children. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The White House says about 10% of eligible kids aged 5 to 11 have received a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine since its approval for their age group two weeks ago.

At least 2.6 million kids have received a shot, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday, with 1.7 million doses administered in the last week alone, roughly double the pace of the first week after approval. It’s more than three times faster than the rate adults were vaccinated at the start of the nation’s vaccination campaign 11 months ago.

Zients said there are now 30,000 locations across for kids to get a shot, up from 20,000 last week, and that the administration expects the pace of pediatric shots to pick up in the coming days.

Kids who get their first vaccine dose by the end of this week will be fully vaccinated by Christmas, assuming they get their second shot three weeks after the first one.

Read the full story here.

—Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Disney is first cruise line to require vaccinations for children

People on top of a float slide through a tubular water slide on the Disney Dream cruise ship at Port Canaveral in Cape Canaveral, Fla., U.S., in July 2017. (Bloomberg photo by Ty Wright).

The days of bringing unvaccinated kids aboard a cruise are winding down. On Wednesday, Disney Cruise Line became the first cruise company to introduce a coronavirus vaccine mandate for passengers 5 years old and up.

The policy applies to all sailings departing on or after Jan. 13. Until then, the existing rules — which require children to show a negative PCR test taken before departure — will continue to apply. Under the current restrictions, anyone turning 12 within five weeks of departure dates is given leeway, and it is expected that similar provisions will apply to 5-year-olds celebrating recent birthdays.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg

Couple who fled in $20 million COVID fraud case in California gets prison, feds say

A California couple who fled before sentencing in a $20 million COVID-19 relief fraud case will face years in prison when they are recaptured, federal officials say.

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson sentenced Richard Ayvazyan, 43, to 17 years in prison and Marietta Terabelian, 37, to six years in prison on Monday, Nov. 15, for their roles in the scam, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Central California said in a news release.

Ayvazyan and Terabelian cut off their ankle monitors and fled their home in August after being convicted in June, McClatchy News reported. They remain missing.

Wilson also sentenced Artur Ayvazyan, 41, Richard’s brother, who had not fled, to five years in prison, the release said. Four others convicted in the scam were sentenced earlier.

The scammers fraudulently obtained more than $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan funds intended for COVID-19 relief, prosecutors said.

Read the full story here.

—The Sacramento Bee
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Oklahoma challenging Pentagon’s vaccine mandate for Guard

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin listens as President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A dispute between Oklahoma’s governor and the Pentagon over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is setting up the first critical test of the military’s authority to require National Guard troops to get the shot and laying the groundwork for potential protests from other states.

Acting on an order from Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, the state’s adjutant general sent a memo telling troops that they aren’t required to get the shot and “no negative administrative or legal action” would be taken against them if they refuse. That order from Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino came as Stitt asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to consider suspending the mandate for members of the Oklahoma Guard.

Read the full story here.

CDC adds more European destinations to its level 4 travel list

A tourist walks on the path of colorful Krysuvik Seltun on Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland. The CDC gave Iceland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Guernsey a level 4 warning, which means they are recommending that Americans avoid traveling, even if vaccinated. (Dreamstime / TNS, file)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved four European destinations to its highest-risk category for travel — a reflection of growing concern over rising cases in Europe just as the United States reopens to international travelers from that region.

The CDC on Monday gave Hungary, Iceland, the Czech Republic and Guernsey a level 4 warning, which means they are recommending that Americans avoid traveling, even if vaccinated. They join other European destinations on the Level 4 list, including some that were added recently — Luxembourg and the Netherlands for example — and others, such as the United Kingdom, that have been on the list for months.

Countries and territories in this group have an incidence rate of COVID-19 of more than 500 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 28 days (or in the case of Guernsey, which has fewer than 100,000 residents, more than 500 cases cumulatively over the past 28 days). As of this week, 81 destinations are listed in the Level 4 category.

The CDC has four levels that start at “low” and escalate to “moderate,” “high” and “very high.” No matter the CDC designation of your destination, the agency says everyone should be fully vaccinated before traveling.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

‘Flashing red’: Belgium tightens rules amid COVID-19 surge

A woman wears a face mask to protect against the coronavirus as she visits the Marrolles flea market in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Belgium’s coronavirus consultative committee has issued new measures to combat rising coronavirus infections and deaths. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium extended the use of facemasks and mandatory remote work on Wednesday in an attempt to contain a new surge of COVID-19 cases.

“The alarm signals are flashing red,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

The premier added that the mandatory use of facemasks in crowded places would now include those 10 and older and that remote work, when possible, would mandatory for 4 days in the 5-day workweek until Dec. 12.

Up to now, facemasks had been limited to those 12 and over and remote work had been a recommendation only, but not mandatory. Special rules adapted to fighting COVID-19 schools would be imposed imminently, he said.

The government also reinforced rules in nightclubs, restaurants and bars, adding that masks or a negative virus test would be needed in addition to a mandatory check of full vaccination status.

“If we want to avoid another lockdown, we have to show a sense of responsibility,” said De Croo.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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U.S. offering investment to boost COVID-19 vaccine capacity

A health worker gives a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a man during a vaccination campaign at a community health center in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is making billions of dollars available to drugmakers to scale up domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines in the hopes of building capacity to produce an additional 1 billion shots per year to share with the world.

Under the new initiative, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is soliciting pharmaceutical companies that have demonstrated the ability to make the more-effective mRNA vaccines to bid for government investment in scaling up their manufacturing abilities. Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna produce the two U.S.-approved mRNA shots.

The Biden administration believes the boosted capacity of COVID-19 shots will help ease a global shortage of doses, particularly in lower- and middle-income nations, stopping preventable death and limiting the development of potentially new, more dangerous variants of the virus.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

White House: 10% of kids have been vaccinated in 1st 2 weeks

FILE – Cameron West, 9, receives a COVID-19 vaccination at Englewood Health in Englewood, N.J., Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. Health systems have released little data on the racial breakdown of youth vaccinations, and community leaders fear that Black and Latino kids are falling behind. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) NYAG301 NYAG301

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says about 10% of eligible kids aged 5 to 11 have received a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine since its approval for their age group two weeks ago.

At least 2.6 million kids have received a shot, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday, with 1.7 million doses administered in the last week alone, roughly double the pace of the first week after approval. It’s more than three times faster than the rate adults were vaccinated at the start of the nation’s vaccination campaign 11 months ago.

Zients said there are now 30,000 locations across for kids to get a shot, up from 20,000 last week, and that the administration expects the pace of pediatric shots to pick up in the coming days.

Kids who get their first vaccine dose by the end of this week will be fully vaccinated by Christmas, assuming they get their second shot three weeks after the first one.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Callers to global helplines voiced similar pandemic worries

FILE – In this Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans.  As the coronavirus spread across borders early in the pandemic, calls to global helplines showed a striking similarity in the toll on mental health _ from China to Lebanon, Finland to Slovenia. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Fears of infection. Loneliness. Worries about physical health.

As the coronavirus spread across borders early in the pandemic, calls to global helplines showed a striking similarity in the toll on mental health — from China to Lebanon, Finland to Slovenia.

An analysis of 8 million calls to helplines in 19 countries, published Wednesday in Nature, reveals a collective response to unprecedented, uncertain times.

Callers’ worries centered on fears of infection, loneliness and physical health. Calls about relationship issues, economic problems and suicide-related issues were generally less prevalent than before the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Novavax asks EU drug regulator to OK its COVID vaccine

LONDON (AP) — The European Union’s drug regulator said it received an application from Novavax to authorize the American biotechnology company’s coronavirus vaccine, a request that could significantly boost the continent’s vaccine supplies if it’s granted.

In a statement on Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency said it had begun evaluating data submitted by Novavax for its two-dose vaccine. An expedited review process could produce a decision within weeks “if the data submitted are sufficiently robust and complete to show the efficacy, safety and quality of the vaccine,” the agency said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

WHO: Europe is only region with increasing COVID deaths

The World Health Organization says coronavirus deaths in Europe rose 5% in the last week, making it the only region in the world where COVID-19 deaths increased. The U.N. health agency said confirmed cases jumped 6% globally, driven by increases in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

In its weekly report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday, WHO said COVID-19 deaths in all regions other than Europe remained stable or declined, and totaled 50,000 worldwide last week. Of the 3.3 million new infections reported, 2.1 million came from Europe.

It was the seventh consecutive week that COVID-19 cases continued to mount across the 61 countries that WHO counts in its European region, which stretches through Russia to Central Asia.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

A COVID-19 outbreak in a party town shows how the pandemic could end, researchers say. It all started when the weather turned ugly on a holiday weekend.

All Americans could be eligible for booster shots by the weekend if the FDA and CDC approve Pfizer's plan. Some states aren't waiting; they've already expanded eligibility as new COVID hot spots emerge around the nation. See if you're eligible in Washington state. 

A man stabbed a gas station clerk in Seattle after being asked to mask up, police say.

A pingpong ball could wind up deciding the fate of President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for private employers. A judicial clerk on Tuesday determined where a key court challenge will be heard with a ball plucked out of a bin.

—Kris Higginson