Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, November 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Europe is the only region in the world where COVID-19 deaths increased in the past week, according to the World Health Organization. Of the 3.3 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week, 2.1 million came from the European region.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease and Control placed a level 4 warning on traveling to Hungary, Iceland, the Czech Republic and Guernsey. These countries were just the latest to be added to the level 4 travel list. When the CDC places a country on level 4 travel, they recommend that Americans avoid traveling there, even if they are fully vaccinated.

Billions of dollars will be available to drug makers looking to scale up domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines, under a new initiative from the Biden administration. Boosting the capacity of the COVID-19 vaccines will help address global shortages, stop preventable deaths and limit the development of more dangerous variants, officials 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. 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.

Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bucs WR Brown accused of obtaining fake vaccination card

A Los Angeles chef who told a newspaper that Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown obtained a fake COVID-19 vaccination card also said the player owes him $10,000.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday that Steven Ruiz provided the newspaper with a screenshot of a July 2 text message exchange in which Brown’s girlfriend asked the former live-in chef if he could obtain Johnson & Johnson vaccination cards for the player.

When the personal chef replied he could try, the girlfriend responded “Ab said he would give you $500.”

Ruiz, who also claimed Brown owes him an uncollected debt of $10,000, told the newspaper he was unable to find a vaccination card for Brown.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Alaska health officials say virus case numbers trending down

State health officials expressed cautious optimism Thursday about lower COVID-19 case numbers in Alaska following an extended surge in cases that strained hospital capacity.

Numbers recently have been trending downward after hitting a bit of a plateau, said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer.

“Hoping to continue to see a downward trend,” she told reporters. “This pandemic continues to have all sorts of twists and turns, and just because it turns downward doesn’t mean it’s going to continue downward or stay there. It takes active work from Alaskans getting vaccinated, distancing, masking.”

Data provided by the state health department, based on the onset date, shows weekly case numbers rose from June into September. The onset date refers to when COVID-19 symptoms began or when testing occurred, according to the department.

The department shows most of Alaska still under a high alert level, a calculation based on cases over a seven-day period, and some communities are experiencing outbreaks.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Governor invites unvaccinated law officers to come work in Tennessee

Tennessee’s Republican governor has sought to capitalize on rising law enforcement tensions with city leaders surrounding COVID-19 vaccine mandates, offering to help pay unvaccinated out-of-state officers to relocate and join the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

“Our force is one of the most professional in the country, and we won’t get between you and your doctor,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a recently released promotional video. “We believe you’d be a great fit for our state and we’ll even help cover your moving expenses.”

The offer makes Lee just the latest Republican leader to capitalize on vaccine mandate tensions. He didn’t immediately mention how much the state would reimburse officers or how it would be done.

“The reimbursement rate for relocation expenses will depend on the number of qualified candidates who commit to moving,” complete training and join the state police force, Lee’s spokesperson Casey Black said in an email.

Elsewhere, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced plans to give $5,000 bonuses to unvaccinated officers who relocated to his state and joined the police force — an offer to be formalized during a legislative session in January.

Read the full story here.

— KIMBerlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise, The Associated Press

First known COVID case was vendor at Wuhan market, scientist claims

A scientist who has pored over public accounts of early COVID-19 cases in China reported Thursday that an influential World Health Organization inquiry had likely gotten the early chronology of the pandemic wrong. The new analysis suggests that the first known patient sickened with the coronavirus was a vendor in a large Wuhan animal market, not an accountant who lived many miles from it.

The report, published Thursday in the prestigious journal Science, will revive, although certainly not settle, the debate over whether the pandemic started with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market, a leak from a Wuhan virology lab or some other way. The search for the origins of the greatest public health catastrophe in a century has fueled geopolitical battles, with few new facts emerging in recent months to resolve the question.

The scientist, Michael Worobey, a leading expert in tracing the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, came upon timeline discrepancies by combing through what had already been made public in medical journals, as well as video interviews in a Chinese news outlet with people believed to have the first two documented infections.

—Carl Zimmer, Chris Buckley and Benjamin Mueller, The New York Times

New jobless claims in Washington below pre-COVID levels, but hiring also slows

New unemployment claims in Washington dropped last week and remain well below their pre-pandemic levels, even as the state’s latest jobs report showed that hiring appears to be slowing.

Washingtonians filed 5,181 new, or “initial,” claims for jobless benefits last week, down 13.6% from the prior week, according to data posted Thursday by the state Employment Security Department. 

New claims in Washington fell even more sharply than for the nation as a whole: Overall U.S. claims fell by less than half a percent, to 268,000 last week, the fewest since the pandemic started last year, the Labor Department reported Thursday.  

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

State health officials confirm 2,035 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,035 new coronavirus cases and 30 new deaths on Thursday.

The update brings the state's totals to 760,482 cases and 9,086 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. Wednesday.

In addition, 42,055 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 86 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 170,545 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,041 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.

South Korea sees record virus jump as thousands take college exam

South Korea reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic as hundreds of thousands of masked students flocked to schools on Thursday for the country’s highly competitive college entrance exam amid growing concerns about the delta-driven spread.

About 509,000 students were taking the one-day exam at 1,395 sites across the nation, including hospitals and shelters.

The annual exam, called “Suneung,” or the College Scholastic Ability Test, is crucial in the education-obsessed country, where careers, social standings and even marriage prospects greatly depend on which university a person attends.

Read the full story here.

—Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press

Virus surge worsens in Midwest as states expand boosters

A surge in cases in the Upper Midwest has some Michigan schools keeping students at home ahead of Thanksgiving and the military sending medical teams to Minnesota to relieve hospital staffs overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

The worsening outlook in the Midwest comes as booster shots are being made available to everyone in a growing number of locations. Massachusetts and Utah became the latest to say anyone 18 or older can roll up a sleeve for a booster shots, and an advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meeting Friday to discuss expanding boosters.

Cold weather states are dominating the fresh wave of cases over the last seven days, including New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin, according to federal data. But the Southwest had trouble spots, too, with more than 90% of inpatient hospital beds occupied in Arizona.

Read the full story here.

—Ed White, The Associated Press

Job growth slows in Washington, even as it surges nationally

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 the report. The state’s unemployment rate fell to 5%, down slightly from 5.1% in September.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

Seattle School Board urges Washington state Department of Health to make COVID vaccines mandatory for students

After delaying a vote on the issue twice, Seattle Public Schools board members are now urging the state Department of Health to begin a review to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of immunizations required to attend school. 

During Wednesday’s regular meeting, school board members unanimously approved a resolution that “urges” the Washington State Board of Health to consider making the COVID vaccine a requirement for children ages 5 and older once it’s been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final signoff to Pfizer’s vaccine for children 5 to 11, making all school-aged children eligible for a vaccine. 

Read the full story here.

—Monica Velez

German lawmakers shift in COVID rules after dire warnings

German lawmakers approved new measures Thursday to rein in record coronavirus infections after the head of the country’s disease control agency warned Germany could face a “really terrible Christmas.”

The measures passed in the Bundestag with votes from the center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. The three parties are currently negotiating to form a new government.

The legislation includes requirements for employees to prove they are vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative for the virus in order to access communal workplaces; a similar rule will apply to public transport. The measures need to be approved by Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which could happen Friday.

Read the full story here.

—Frank Jordans, The Associated Press

COVID-19 deaths in Russia hit record for 2nd straight day

Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit record highs for the second straight day Thursday, while new daily cases appeared to be taking a downward trend but still remained higher than during previous waves of the pandemic.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported that 1,251 people died of COVID-19 since the day before, the most since Russia had its first virus outbreak in March 2020. The previous record of 1,247 deaths was recorded Wednesday.

The task force also reported 37,374 new confirmed cases. Until this week, Russian authorities had recorded higher daily case numbers since late October.

Read the full story here.

—Daria Litvinova, The Associated Press

Pfizer, US ink $5.29B deal for possible COVID-19 treatment

The U.S. government will pay drugmaker Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million treatment courses of its potential COVID-19 treatment if regulators authorize it, the nation’s largest purchase agreement yet for a coronavirus therapy.

Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday to authorize emergency use of the experimental pill, which has been shown to significantly cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people with coronavirus infections.

The FDA is already reviewing a competing pill from Merck and will hold a public meeting on it later this month.

Read the full story here.

—Tom Murphy, The Associated Press

EU drug agency starts evaluating new COVID-19 treatment

The European Union’s medicines authority said Thursday that it is evaluating a new drug for treating COVID-19 patients who do not require extra oxygen but are at increased risk of developing severe symptoms of the disease.

Xevudy, developed by U.S. company Vir Biotechnology Inc. and Britain-based GlaxoSmithKline, is a so-called monoclonal antibody treatment — a laboratory-made version of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight off infections.

Antibody treatments remain one of a handful of therapies that can blunt the worst effects of COVID-19, and they are the only option available to people with mild-to-moderate cases who aren’t yet in the hospital.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Why can’t some COVID-19 vaccinated people travel to the US?

Why can’t some COVID-19 vaccinated people travel to the U.S.?

Because they might not be vaccinated with shots recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization.

When lifting overseas travel restrictions in November, the U.S. required adults coming to the country to be fully vaccinated with shots approved or authorized by the FDA or allowed by WHO.

Among the most widely used vaccines that don’t meet that criteria are Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and China’s CanSino vaccine. Sputnik V is authorized for use in more than 70 countries while CanSino is allowed in at least nine countries. WHO still is awaiting more data about both vaccines before making a decision.

Read the full story here.

—Victoria Milko, The Associated Press

Czechs, Slovaks target unvaccinated with new restrictions

The Czech and Slovak governments on Thursday approved new coronavirus restrictions that will come into effect next week and specifically target unvaccinated people amid a record surge of infections in both neighboring countries.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said most unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to show negative coronavirus tests in order to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants, visit hairdressers, museums and similar facilities or use hotels.

Only people who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 will remain eligible. There are exceptions for teenagers aged 12 to 18, people whose medical condition doesn’t allow vaccination and people who have been partially vaccinated.

Read full story here.

—Karel Janicek, The Associated Press

Lonnie Dench, who participated in a Thanksgiving tradition, died of COVID-19 complications in April 2020

It has been six years since Wanda Dench went viral for her accidental Thanksgiving text to Jamal Hinton, but the internet is still swooning over their feel-good friendship.

It began in November 2016, when Hinton, then 17, got a text message from an unknown number inviting him to Thanksgiving. When he asked who it was, the person responded: “Your grandma.”

“Grandma? Can I have a picture?” the teenager replied.

He received a selfie of a woman he had never seen before. It was Dench, now 64.

Read the full story here.

—Sydney Page, The Washington Post

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Should Washington mandate COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren? Seattle school board members unanimously called for this as protesters circled outside yesterday — and state officials will soon consider it. Nationally, kids ages 5-11 are getting vaccinated at a rate much faster than adults did. Here's how to find kids' vaccine appointments in our state.

The FDA is expected to approve booster shots for all Americans today. Depending on how the CDC acts next, Pfizer's boosters could be flowing into arms as soon as this weekend.

How to make your holiday gatherings safer: Washington health leaders, worried about a repeat of last winter's surge, are urging residents to take precautions and tests. Rapid at-home tests are making that easier than ever. Here's what you should know about using them. 

How to tell online COVID facts from fiction: "If you're not sure, don't share," advises one checklist. But it's not always easy to be sure amid the flood of studies and talking heads. Here are tips, trusted sources and dead giveaways that the truth is getting twisted.

—Kris Higginson