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 It is no longer being updated.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

Washington set another record for COVID-19 cases Tuesday. The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,589 new COVID-19 cases as of Monday, and 23 new deaths. The state has set records on four of the last five days.

On a day the state set a record, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Dr. Umair Shah will be the next secretary of health, replacing John Wiesman, who took a job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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 and the world.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Coalition seizes on pandemic to boost ‘Obamacare’ sign-ups

WASHINGTON — As COVID-19 spreads uncontrolled in many places, a coalition of states, health care groups and activists is striving to drum up “Obamacare” sign-ups among a growing number of Americans uninsured in perilous times.

The campaign kicking off Thursday is called Get Covered 2021 and contrasts with a lack of outreach to the uninsured by the Trump administration, which is still trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act, even in the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s renewed energy around getting people covered this year, given how COVID-19 is impacting so many people’s lives,” said Joshua Peck, a former Obama administration official helping lead the effort.

About 26 million people were uninsured last year — before the wave of layoffs that followed the virus shutdown this spring. Experts agree that number has risen, perhaps by 5 million to 10 million, but authoritative estimates await government studies that take time to produce.

Nonetheless, research from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that about 6 in 10 uninsured people would be eligible for some form of subsidized coverage under the Obama-era law. Open enrollment for subsidized private plans through HealthCare.gov is underway and ends Dec. 15.

—Associated Press
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Tokyo Olympics: Many rules, no partying, no hanging around

TOKYO — Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics won’t have the luxury of hanging around once they’ve wrapped up their event.

No late-night parties in the Athletes Village. No nights — or early mornings — on the town.

Instead of getting to know their global neighbors, Olympic athletes will be encouraged to leave Japan a day or two after they’ve finished competing.

From the opening ceremony to life in the village on Tokyo Bay, the postponed 2020 Olympics will be like no other. There’ll be stringent rules and guidelines — and maybe vaccines and rapid testing — to pull off the games in the middle of a pandemic that has been blamed for more than 1 million deaths worldwide.

Organizers and the IOC are growing confident they will have a vaccine and rapid testing. This will help, but dozens of other countermeasures will also be in place; social distancing, masks and bubbles in the venues and the Athletes Village.

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

Samoa leader appeals for calm after COVID case

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The leader of the small Pacific nation of Samoa appealed for calm Thursday after the country reported its first positive test for the coronavirus, although a second test on the same patient returned a negative result. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi addressed the nation live on television and radio, urging people to remain vigilant with their virus precautions. 

Samoa was among a dwindling handful of nations to have not reported a single case of the virus. 

According to the Samoa Observer, the prime minister said the patient was a sailor who had been staying in a quarantine facility since flying in from New Zealand on Friday. He said the sailor returned a positive test four days after arriving, but then a second test on Thursday returned a negative result. 

The prime minister said the Cabinet would meet Thursday to decide on any changes to the current virus settings, the Observer reported. Samoa is home to about 200,000 people.

—Associated Press

Some GOP governors shift on mask mandates as hospitals fill

IOWA CITY, Iowa — After Republicans expanded their control of Iowa’s Legislature this month, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the outcome was a validation of her small-government approach to managing the coronavirus pandemic.

But as Iowa hospitals rapidly filled up in the days after the election, the GOP governor reluctantly embraced a policy she had once considered government overreach and vowed never to enact: a statewide mask mandate, however limited.

Reynolds is joining Republican governors in Utah and North Dakota in changing course on the pandemic response since the Nov. 3 election and issuing mask mandates and other restrictions as coronavirus cases skyrocket across the country. GOP governors in Ohio and West Virginia have also recently strengthened existing mask mandates, while Mississippi’s governor expanded the state’s partial mandate to cover more counties.

By belatedly mandating masks, the governors are tacitly acknowledging the failure of their earlier hands-off approach to public health. Health officials have long called for widespread mask wearing to prevent the spread of the disease. Governors who resisted for ideological or political reasons now find themselves in the throes of a crisis and forced to follow science or risk making a dangerous situation worse through their inaction.

—Associated Press
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Oregon COVID-19 hospitalizations up 137% since Nov. 1

PORTLAND, Ore. — The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon has surpassed 400, the highest number since the pandemic began and a 137% increase since the beginning of November, according to state health data released Wednesday.

The Oregon Health Authority said Wednesday that 406 people were hospitalized, with 94 in intensive care. On Nov. 1, Oregon had 171 people in the hospital with COVID-19. A week ago, 290 people were hospitalized. 

The news came as health officials announced 1,099 new cases of the virus Wednesday and 10 deaths. The biggest increase in hospitalizations was in the Portland metropolitan area, the Willamette Valley and in Jackson and Josephine counties to the southwest.

Oregon began a statewide “freeze” on social activity Wednesday in an attempt to slow the spread. In Multnomah County, that freeze will last four weeks.

—Associated Press

Washington Hospitality Association urges Inslee to reconsider ban on indoor dining in restaurants

The indoor dining area of the Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant in White Center is seen  Nov. 15. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered sweeping new restrictions on indoor dining, among other things, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads rapidly across Washington state. But the Washington Hospitality Association filed a letter to the governor on Wednesday asking that he reconsider his decision to ban indoor dining. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
The indoor dining area of the Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant in White Center is seen Nov. 15. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered sweeping new restrictions on indoor dining, among other things, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads rapidly across Washington state. But the Washington Hospitality Association filed a letter to the governor on Wednesday asking that he reconsider his decision to ban indoor dining. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

The Washington Hospitality Association (WHA) is formally urging Gov. Jay Inslee’s office to reconsider the ban on indoor dining that took effect Wednesday and will run until at least Dec. 14. 

“This year, our industry has been decimated,” WHA’s Director of State Government Affairs Julia Gorton wrote in a letter sent to Inslee’s office on Wednesday. “This most recent announcement will mean 100,000 families or more will lose their income right before the holidays.”

In the letter, WHA, a trade group that represents more than 6,000 members of the lodging and restaurant industry across the state, claims that restaurants are not a significant source of COVID-19 cases in Washington state, citing the safety regulations in place at restaurants and two months worth of data from public health offices in Clark, Pierce, and Walla Walla counties that the organization says suggests that less than one half of one percent of COVID cases were connected to restaurants.

The governor’s office refutes that claim on the basis that the available data does not paint a full picture.

“The fundamental disagreement here is whether COVID spreads in restaurants. It does. Period,” Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for the governor’s office wrote in an email. “Even with incomplete outbreak data due to the limitations of voluntary contact tracing, restaurants remain the number one non-healthcare [industry] where COVID spreads.” 

Read the full story here.

—Crystal Paul

California’s Newsom still on hot seat for dinner party

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week he made a “bad mistake” by attending a friend’s birthday dinner during a spike in coronavirus cases and promised to “own it” and move forward. But there was more to the story than he revealed.

Photos obtained by Fox 11 in Los Angeles show the governor in the company of multiple lobbyists and raise questions about how truthful Newsom was in claiming the dinner was outdoors. The images threaten his credibility at a time when he and health officials are pleading with Californians to stay home and not gather with friends and relatives outside their households.

Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer, whose county is facing the possibility of a three-week lockdown if cases continue on their current trajectory, called Newsom’s decision to attend the dinner “a big mistake” that she trusts won’t happen again.

Newsom attended the dinner on Nov. 6 at the French Laundry, one of the finest and most expensive restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. His administration didn’t acknowledge it until a week later when a reporter was tipped and asked about it.

Newsom apologized on Monday and described the dinner as outdoors. But the photos show Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, sitting maskless around a crowded table of 12 inside a room that was enclosed on three sides.

While Newsom faces heat for his decision, some state lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — are being criticized for going to Hawaii this week for a conference as California’s nearly 40 million residents are told to avoid travel.

—Associated Press
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A quarter of a million people in U.S. have died of COVID-19

The United States passed a grim milestone Wednesday, hitting 250,000 coronavirus-related deaths, with the number expected to keep climbing steeply as infections surge nationwide.

Experts predict that the country could soon be reporting 2,000 deaths a day or more, matching or exceeding the spring peak, and that 100,000 to 200,000 more Americans could die in the coming months.

Just how bad it gets will depend on a variety of factors, including how well preventive measures are followed and when a vaccine is introduced.

Back in March, when the virus was still relatively new and limited mainly to a few significant pockets like New York, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the country, predicted that it might kill up to 240,000 Americans.

It has now passed that mark, with no end in sight.

—The New York Times

Voices from the pandemic: ‘This is how we treat each other? This is who we are?’

Amber Elliott, county health director in St. Francois County, Mo., on the high cost of doing her job. (Photo for The Washington Post by Whitney Curtis).
Amber Elliott, county health director in St. Francois County, Mo., on the high cost of doing her job. (Photo for The Washington Post by Whitney Curtis).

Amber Elliott is the health director in St. Francois County, Missouri, and she's spent months working to fight the raging spread of COVID-19. Throughout her experience, she's endured death threats and getting yelled at in public.

"I get the same comments all the time over Facebook or email," she said. "'Oh, she’s blowing it out of proportion.' 'She’s a communist.' 'She’s a bitch.' 'She’s pushing her agenda.' OK, fine. I do have an agenda. I want disease transmission to go down. I want to keep this community safe. I want fewer people to die. Why is that controversial?

I have these moments when it feels like I’m a nurse at the bedside, and my patient is dying, and I’m trying every possible intervention to save them. More social distancing. More masks. More contact tracing. Warnings and more warnings. What else can we try? But in the end, it doesn’t matter how much you do. Nothing will work, because it almost seems like the patient is resisting your help."

After nearly a year of "living with that steady hum of tension and fear," Elliot has finally decided enough is enough. Her last day as St. Francois County health director is Friday.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Judge stops policy of ‘expelling’ child migrants, questions legality of border controls linked to pandemic

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Trump administration to halt its practice of “expelling” underage migrants who enter the United States without a parent, a ruling that cast doubt on the broader legality of the emergency public health measures the U.S. government has used since March to impose strict border controls.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s preliminary injunction requires the federal government to process the humanitarian claims of minors who cross the U.S. border alone, rather than returning them to Mexico or flying them back to their home countries without due process.

The Trump administration in March implemented emergency public health measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus in border stations, detention centers and child migrant shelters. Under a provision known as Title 42, Section 265, the government has expelled more than 200,000 border-crossers since March, including thousands of underage migrants traveling alone.

While Sullivan did not rule on the legality of the government’s practice of expelling other border crossers — such as adults and families — his decision questioned the entire basis of the Trump administration’s use of a 19th century public health provision he said makes no mention of expulsion authorities.

Sullivan’s decision could have wider implications for the incoming Biden administration, which will take office at a time of worsening hardship in Mexico and Central America that could push people north, and as illegal border crossings into the United States have risen to their highest levels in more than a year.

—The Washington Post
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New Washington business relief to include $20 million in grants and at least $30 million in loans

The Washington Office of Financial Management Wednesday formally submitted its plan to the Legislature for $50 million in relief for small businesses amid new COVID-19 restrictions announced Sunday.

The dollars come from the federal virus relief package, known as the CARES Act, approved by Congress this spring.

State law gives the Legislature 10 days to give feedback, though lawmakers’ approval isn’t necessary.

The $50 million will be split between grants and loans, both administered by the state Department of Commerce.

Of that, $20 million will go to "rent, mortgage and utility assistance, to help prevent permanent closure of businesses,” according to a summary of the plan. “Commerce will prioritize businesses owned by black, indigenous, and people of color.”

The other $30 million will be distributed as loans to help leverage capital from private investors and banks.

“Based on experiences in states like CA and NY we believe we can roll out a loan program with about $100M available,” Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee wrote in an email. “The goal is for the program to be ready to roll out before the end of winter.”

The plan sent to the Legislature Wednesday also authorizes $15 million to help pay the energy bills of low-income households and allocates another $20 million in rental assistance to prevent evictions of people hurt by the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

State reports 1,303 new COVID-19 cases — 228 in King County — and 21 new deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,303 new COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, and 21 new deaths.

The number new record for new COVID-19 cases reached their highest on Sunday, Nov. 14 with 2,519 diagnoses.

In King County, the state’s most populous, 228 new cases were reported, along with no new deaths.

The update brings the state’s totals to 135,424 cases and 2,592 deaths, meaning that 1.9% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. 

The DOH also reported that 9,622 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus.

Statewide, 2,835,472 COVID-19 tests have been administered as of Tuesday.

In King County, state health officials have confirmed a total of 35,897 COVID-19 diagnoses and 845 deaths.

—Brendan Kiley

Washington State men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith tests positive for COVID-19, will miss first game

Washington State head coach Kyle Smith looks on during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona State in Pullman, Wash., Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Young Kwak / The Associated Press)
Washington State head coach Kyle Smith looks on during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona State in Pullman, Wash., Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Young Kwak / The Associated Press)

Washington State men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the Cougars’ season opener against Texas Southern, according to a press release from the school.

Earlier this week, Smith received a positive antigen test, which was later confirmed by a PCR test. No other members of the WSU program have been placed in COVID-19 protocol, the school confirmed.

Pac-12 and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) protocols mean Smith will have to self-isolate before returning to WSU’s bench, meaning the second-year coach will miss the team’s season Nov. 25 opener against the Tigers.

Second-year assistant coach Jim Shaw will serve as the team’s acting coach for the time being

Read the story here.

—Theo Lawson, The Spokesman-Review
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COVID-19 flare-up at Western Washington University

In response to a surge in student COVID-19 infections, Western Washington University will move to all-remote instruction on Nov. 19.

"Over the past week, Western has seen what we view as a sudden and significant increase in positive student tests, both of individuals and in the batches analyzed in our surveillance testing program," the university wrote in a statement. "We have seen five new positive individual tests, and other positive tests among pooled testing batches."

The vast majority of classes at Western were already being taught remotely, as are classes at University of Washington, The Evergreen State College, Washington State University and most major four-year institutions in the state. Central Washington University is the only public university that planned a hybrid model, and is currently offering 30 percent of its fall 2020 curriculum in-person.

In addition to moving all its classes online, Western Washington University has suspended athletics practices, closed its major gymnasium and limited the number of public study spaces.

For more information, see: wwu.edu/coronavirus/students.

—Brendan Kiley

New York City schools to close again as city fights virus

New York City is shuttering schools to try to stop the renewed spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday in a painful about-face for one of the first big U.S. school systems to bring students back to classrooms this fall.

FILE – In this Oct. 29, 2020, file photo, student Tai Nguyen, right, works on his laptop as instructor Chaya Baras, left, helps student Kenny Scottborough, 19, navigate an online lesson at West Brooklyn Community High School in New York. New York City is shuttering schools to try to stop the renewed spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in a painful about-face for one of the first big U.S. school systems to bring students back to classrooms in the fall. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
FILE – In this Oct. 29, 2020, file photo, student Tai Nguyen, right, works on his laptop as instructor Chaya Baras, left, helps student Kenny Scottborough, 19, navigate an online lesson at West Brooklyn Community High School in New York. New York City is shuttering schools to try to stop the renewed spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in a painful about-face for one of the first big U.S. school systems to bring students back to classrooms in the fall. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

The nation’s largest public school system will halt in-person learning Thursday, sending more than 1 million children into all-online classes, the mayor said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Washington Congressman Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19

Rep. Dan Newhouse, who represents the 4th Congressional District of Central Washington, said Wednesday he has tested positive for COVID-19. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
Rep. Dan Newhouse, who represents the 4th Congressional District of Central Washington, said Wednesday he has tested positive for COVID-19. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, said Wednesday he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms.

Newhouse, 65, who represents the 4th Congressional District of Central Washington, announced his diagnosis in a tweet, saying he’d taken a test after feeling “a little run down.”

Newhouse said the results came back positive Tuesday night.

“My symptoms remain mild, and I am following CDC guidelines. I am quarantining and will continue to serve the people of Central Washington from home,” he wrote.

A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for further details.

Newhouse is the first member of Washington’s congressional delegation to disclose testing positive for COVID-19. At least 22 other U.S. House members and six senators have contracted the illness, according to a list maintained by GovTrack.

Read the story here.

—Jim Brunner
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Empty desks: Coronavirus robs US classrooms of teachers

In July, fourth-grade teacher Susanne Michael was ecstatic as she celebrated the adoption of a former student from a troubled home and two of the girl’s brothers. For the festivities, Michael dressed them and her other children in matching T-shirts that read “Gotcha FOREVER.”

By October, the 47-year-old Jonesboro, Arkansas, woman was dead — one of an estimated nearly 300 school employees killed by the coronavirus in the U.S. since the outbreak took hold.

Keith Michael, left, poses with his children, from left, Jessica, Hunter, Houston, Sara and Holly, outside their home on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Jonesboro, Ark. Among the victims of the coronavirus is Michael’s wife, fourth-grade Arkansas teacher Susanne Michael, who died less than three months after celebrating the adoption of three of the children. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
Keith Michael, left, poses with his children, from left, Jessica, Hunter, Houston, Sara and Holly, outside their home on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Jonesboro, Ark. Among the victims of the coronavirus is Michael’s wife, fourth-grade Arkansas teacher Susanne Michael, who died less than three months after celebrating the adoption of three of the children. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

“She just basically would eat, sleep and drink teaching. She loved it,” said her husband, Keith Michael, who is now left to raise the three new additions, ages 3, 8 and 13, along with the couple’s two other children, 16 and 22.

Across the U.S., the deaths of educators have torn at the fabric of the school experience, taking the lives of teachers, principals, superintendents, coaches, a middle school secretary, a security guard. The losses have forced school boards to make hard decisions of whether to keep classrooms open and have left students and staff members grief-stricken.

Read the story here.

—Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press

As virus hits Italy’s south, some flee troubled health care

Patients, some wrapped in blankets that look like they came from home, moan in their beds. What appears to be medical tubing and a wad of gauze or paper towels litter the floor of San Giuliano public hospital, which treats coronavirus patients in a bleak town in Italy’s Neapolitan hinterland.

In another surreptitiously filmed scene, 15 kilometers (9 miles) away in Naples, an elderly man suspected of having COVID-19 takes his last, labored breaths in a bathroom at the emergency room of Cardarelli Hospital, his undignified end memorialized on a phone camera by a fellow patient and posted online.

A medical operator prepares to perform COVID-19 test swabs in the Church of San Severo Outside the Walls, in the heart of Naples, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. An initiative of “Sanita’ Diritti Salute” association and the San Gennaro Foundation, aimed at helping those who cannot afford the cost of a private test, also allows, in the best tradition of Naples, those who want to pay 18 euros for a “suspended swab”, to be taken by somebody else, exactly as it happens for the famous Neapolitan “suspended coffee”. (Alessandro Pone /LaPresse via AP)
A medical operator prepares to perform COVID-19 test swabs in the Church of San Severo Outside the Walls, in the heart of Naples, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. An initiative of “Sanita’ Diritti Salute” association and the San Gennaro Foundation, aimed at helping those who cannot afford the cost of a private test, also allows, in the best tradition of Naples, those who want to pay 18 euros for a “suspended swab”, to be taken by somebody else, exactly as it happens for the famous Neapolitan “suspended coffee”. (Alessandro Pone /LaPresse via AP)

Meanwhile, outside the ER entrance for Cardarelli, the main health care facility for densely populated Naples, those desperate for oxygen for loved ones line up in their cars, waiting for nurses to bring tanks of the life-saving element to ailing passengers anxious to enter the crowded ER.

The pandemic, which has killed more than 46,000 people in Italy, has increased the number of people who are leaving one region to seek better medical treatment elsewhere in northern Italy. It's so prevalent that a foundation studying the quality of the nation’s health care publishes what it calls the “flight index.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

‘Tired to the bone’: Hospitals overwhelmed with virus cases

Overwhelmed hospitals are converting chapels, cafeterias, waiting rooms, hallways, even a parking garage into patient treatment areas. Staff members are desperately calling around to other medical centers in search of open beds. Fatigue and frustration are setting in among front-line workers.

Conditions inside the nation’s hospitals are deteriorating by the day as the coronavirus rages across the U.S. at an unrelenting pace.

“We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,” said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, adding that she drives to and from work some days in tears.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 in the U.S. has doubled in the past month and set new records every day this week. As of Tuesday, more than 76,000 were hospitalized with the virus.

Newly confirmed infections per day in the U.S. have exploded more than 80% over the past two weeks to the highest levels on record, with the daily count running at close to 160,000 on average. Cases are on the rise in all 50 states. Deaths are averaging more than 1,155 per day, the highest in months.

The out-of-control surge is leading governors and mayors across the U.S. to grudgingly issue mask mandates, limit the size of private and public gatherings, ban indoor restaurant dining, close gyms or restrict the hours and capacity of various businesses.

On Wednesday, New York City’s school system suspended in-person classes amid mounting infection rates, a painful retreat in a corner of the country that suffered mightily in the spring but had seemingly beaten back the virus months ago.

—Paul J. Weber and Sarah Rankin, The Associated Press
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Ohio wedding spreads COVID-19 to dozens, including the bride and groom

When Mikayla Bishop began walking down the aisle in October, the bride immediately noticed that even though she had provided masks, almost no one was wearing one.

“I’m walking down the aisle,” she told WLWT this week. “We can’t do anything now.”

Now, more than two weeks later, she said, 32 of the 83 guests at her Cincinnati-area wedding have tested positive for the coronavirus, including three of the couples’ grandparents. Bishop and her husband, Anthony, also contracted the virus, she told the TV station.

Even with the lack of masks and the warnings from experts about the dangers of large indoor gatherings like their wedding, she said the couple was shocked by the fallout.

“I didn’t think that almost half of our wedding guests were gonna get sick,” Bishop said. “You’re in the moment. You’re having fun. You don’t think about COVID anymore.”

Nationwide, authorities have pointed to multiple weddings as superspreader events, including an event in Maine in August that’s been tied to almost 200 cases and seven deaths and a Washington state wedding attended by more than 300 people earlier this month where at least 40 guests have tested positive, sparking two separate outbreaks.

Read the story here.

—Andrea Salcedo, The Washington Post

If Congress doesn’t act, 12 million Americans could lose unemployment aid by the end of the year

Deadlines set by Congress early in the pandemic will result in about 12 million Americans losing unemployment insurance by the year’s end, according to a report released Wednesday — a warning about the sharp toll that inaction in Washington could exact on the economic health of both individual households and the economy at large.

According to the report from unemployment researchers Andrew Stettner and Elizabeth Pancotti, those Americans will lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas — more than half of the 21.1 million people currently on the benefits — due to deadlines Congress chose when it passed the Cares Act in March amid optimism the pandemic would be short-lived.

Another 4.4 million people have already exhausted their benefits this year, according to Stettner and Pancotti, who wrote the report for the Century Foundation, a public policy research group.

Read the story here.

—Eli Rosenberg, The Washington Post

Dolly Parton helped fund Moderna’s vaccine. It began with a car crash and an unlikely friendship.

As Dolly Parton tells it, her first-ever car accident in October 2013 was minor, but left her bruised and sore enough to seek medical advice at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

FILE – In this Nov. 13, 2019 file photo, Dolly Parton performs at the 53rd annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn. Parton’s $1 million gift to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University helped researchers develop Moderna’s experimental coronavirus vaccine, announced this week. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
FILE – In this Nov. 13, 2019 file photo, Dolly Parton performs at the 53rd annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn. Parton’s $1 million gift to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University helped researchers develop Moderna’s experimental coronavirus vaccine, announced this week. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

That’s where she met Naji Abumrad, a physician and professor of surgery. Abumrad knew next to nothing about the beloved megastar with big, blond hair, but he soon befriended her because he deeply enjoyed their talks about current events and science.

Their bond of nearly seven years received worldwide attention Tuesday after it was revealed that Parton’s $1 million donation to Vanderbilt for coronavirus research, made in honor of Abumrad, partially funded the biotechnology firm Moderna’s experimental vaccine, which a preliminary analysis released this week found is nearly 95 percent effective at preventing the illness.

Among the agencies and universities listed as funding sources for the Moderna vaccine was “the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund,” which left some on social media joking about singing the refrain of her hit “Jolene” replaced with the word “vaccine.” 

Read the story here.

—Timothy Bella, The Washington Post
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Berlin police forcefully disperse protest over virus rules

German police used water cannons and pepper spray Wednesday to disperse people protesting coronavirus restrictions in Berlin’s government district, after crowds ignored calls to wear masks and keep their distance from one another in line with pandemic regulations.

As water sprayed from the cannons rained down on protesters outside the landmark Brandenburg Gate, police in riot gear moved through the crowd carrying away some participants. Some demonstrators threw fireworks, flares and other objects in response as police helicopters hovered overhead.

Police uses water canons to clear a blocked a road between the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building, home of the German federal parliament, as people attend a protest rally in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 against the coronavirus restrictions in Germany. Police in Berlin have requested thousands of reinforcements from other parts of Germany to cope with planned protests by people opposed to coronavirus restrictions. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Police uses water canons to clear a blocked a road between the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building, home of the German federal parliament, as people attend a protest rally in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 against the coronavirus restrictions in Germany. Police in Berlin have requested thousands of reinforcements from other parts of Germany to cope with planned protests by people opposed to coronavirus restrictions. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

More than 100 people were arrested and nine officers were hurt, police said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Watchdog slams UK over secrecy in virus equipment contracts

The British government spent billions without proper transparency in a scramble to secure protective equipment early in the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s public watchdog said Wednesday.

FILE  – In this Thursday, April 16, 2020 file photo, a view of masks and goggles, part of PPE, personal protective equipment, to avoid being infected or transmitting coronavirus, at the Nightingale Hospital North West set up in the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester, northern England. Britain’s public spending watchdog says the government spent billions, without proper transparency, in a scramble to secure protective equipment early in the coronavirus outbreak. The National Audit Office says in a report Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 that companies with links to politicians were fast-tracked and had more chance of getting a contract than other applicants. Like many countries, the U.K. was caught without enough masks, gowns, gloves and other items to keep health care workers and the public safe as coronavirus cases skyrocketed.(AP Photo/Jon Super, File)
FILE – In this Thursday, April 16, 2020 file photo, a view of masks and goggles, part of PPE, personal protective equipment, to avoid being infected or transmitting coronavirus, at the Nightingale Hospital North West set up in the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester, northern England. Britain’s public spending watchdog says the government spent billions, without proper transparency, in a scramble to secure protective equipment early in the coronavirus outbreak. The National Audit Office says in a report Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 that companies with links to politicians were fast-tracked and had more chance of getting a contract than other applicants. Like many countries, the U.K. was caught without enough masks, gowns, gloves and other items to keep health care workers and the public safe as coronavirus cases skyrocketed.(AP Photo/Jon Super, File)

The National Audit Office said in a report that companies with links to politicians were fast-tracked and had more chances of getting a coronavirus contract than other applicants.

In the push to build up stocks as cases skyrocketed, the government awarded 8,600 contracts worth 18 billion pounds ($24 billion) between March and July, most without a competitive tender process. Some came from a “high-priority lane” of firms referred by politicians, health professionals and government officials, which were considered more credible and processed more quickly than others. One in 10 of those firms got a contract, compared to one in 100 from the wider pool of applicants.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

FDA allows 1st rapid virus test that gives results at home

 U.S. regulators on Tuesday allowed emergency use of the first rapid coronavirus test that can be performed entirely at home and delivers results in 30 minutes.

FILE – This Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, file photo shows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration building behind FDA logos at a bus stop on the agency’s campus in Silver Spring, Md. FDA officials on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, allowed emergency use of the first rapid coronavirus test that can be performed and developed entirely at home. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
FILE – This Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, file photo shows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration building behind FDA logos at a bus stop on the agency’s campus in Silver Spring, Md. FDA officials on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, allowed emergency use of the first rapid coronavirus test that can be performed and developed entirely at home. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration represents an important step in U.S. efforts to expand testing options for COVID-19 beyond health care facilities and testing sites. However, the test will require a prescription, likely limiting its initial use.

The FDA granted emergency authorization to the single-use test kit from Lucira Health, a California manufacturer.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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China defends food import controls to curb virus

China’s government on Wednesday defended anti-coronavirus controls that have disrupted imports of beef, poultry and fish from the United States, New Zealand and other trading partners.

Customs officials who say the coronavirus has been found on frozen meat and on packaging have imposed temporary suspensions on suppliers. That prompted complaints by China’s trading partners.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a worker loads boxes of imported frozen meat at a cold storage port in Dalian in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province on April 8, 2020. China’s government on Wednesday, Nov. 18 defended anti-coronavirus controls that have disrupted imports of beef, poultry and fish from the United States, New Zealand and other trading partners. (Yao Jianfeng/Xinhua via AP)
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a worker loads boxes of imported frozen meat at a cold storage port in Dalian in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province on April 8, 2020. China’s government on Wednesday, Nov. 18 defended anti-coronavirus controls that have disrupted imports of beef, poultry and fish from the United States, New Zealand and other trading partners. (Yao Jianfeng/Xinhua via AP)

The “reasonable and justifiable” curbs are intended to protect public health, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said. China is trying to prevent new outbreaks caused by the virus being imported by travelers or on food.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

2020 Nobel Peace ceremony won’t be held in person in Oslo

The winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize — the World Food Program — and the Norwegian Nobel Committee said Wednesday they have jointly agreed to postpone the in-person award ceremony in Oslo next month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

WFP head David Beasley was expected to travel to the Norwegian capital “to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the organization” that won the prestigious award for efforts to combat hunger. But he will now accept the award during a virtual ceremony on Dec. 10.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony usually is held at Oslo City Hall. However, organizers said the event would be a scaled-down affair held at the city’s university because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

EU Commission recommends wide use of rapid COVID-19 tests

The European Union’s executive arm asked member nations Wednesday to generalize the use of rapid antigen tests as winter approaches and Europe struggles to contain a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Antigen tests are less reliable than the standard PCR coronavirus tests, but they cost less and help track-and-tracing efforts due to producing results more quickly.

In its non-binding recommendation, the European Commission encouraged the 27 EU countries to use a common set of COVID-19 tests, a move aimed at slowing infections while facilitating cross-border travel during the pandemic.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen removes her face mask as she arrives to give a statement at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool Photo via AP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen removes her face mask as she arrives to give a statement at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool Photo via AP)

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Calculate the coronavirus risk for Thanksgiving dinner

Public health experts have been urging Americans to not gather for Thanksgiving as the new coronavirus continues its uncontrolled spread across the nation.

But not everyone is taking this advice to heart: Roughly 40% plan to attend a Thanksgiving gathering with 10 or more people, according to a recent survey commissioned by Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

Peer-reviewed risk assessment data produced by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that many of those big events may become coronavirus superspreaders. Drawing on public data sets, the COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool produces daily county-level estimates of the odds of encountering at least one coronavirus-positive person at a gathering of 10 or more people.

At the county level nationwide, the average estimated risk of running into a coronavirus-positive person at a 10-person gathering is just a hair under 40%. That’s a pretty high number — if you take five of next week’s Thanksgiving gatherings, you can expect that a coronavirus-positive person will be at two of them.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Amid pandemic, Belgrade street kids find comfort at refuge

In a small, brightly-colored backstreet house in Belgrade a teenage girl is drying her hair, while two others eat lunch in the kitchen. A group of boys are having their temperatures checked at the entrance as a precaution against coronavirus.

It’s another busy day for Svratiste, or Roadhouse, Belgrade’s first daily drop-in center for street kids that for years has been a rare oasis of warmth and comfort for the Serbian capital’s most vulnerable inhabitants.

Since opening in 2007, Svratiste has welcomed hundreds of children — some as young as five — who have come here to warm up, wash or eat. With social isolation growing and the economic situation worsening in the pandemic, the center’s role has become even more significant.

Coordinator Mina Lukic said the health crisis has made Belgrade’s poor even poorer as it takes a toll on the Balkan country’s struggling economy.

“We believe this is why we have more children visiting us in the past weeks than they used to,” she said. “The kids that come to us are all aged 5 to 15, pre-school or primary school children. What’s common for all of them is that they work in the street and live in extreme poverty.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Washington state high school sports pushed back as COVID-19 cases spike

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, staring down spiking coronavirus cases across the state, decided late Tuesday to push back the sports calendar four weeks.

That was decision of the WIAA’s Executive Board, whose 13 members met virtually from across the state.

Under the new calendar, winter sports will begin practicing Feb. 1 and end March 20. What was originally the fall sports season, which was pushed back into spring, will begin March 15 (March 8 for football) and run until May 1. The spring season will run from April 26 to June 12.

Read the full story here.

—Nathan Joyce
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Europe sees hope despite having half of the world's 4M new virus cases

Europe made up almost half of the world’s 4 million new coronavirus cases last week but recorded a nearly 10% fall in infections compared to the week before, thanks in part to strict government lockdown measures that have fanned some discontent, the World Health Organization reported Wednesday.

The latest weekly tally from the U.N. health agency found its 54-nation European region continued to report most new cases of any region worldwide — 46% — but its decline in cases followed “the strengthening of public health and social measures.” But as new cases fell, the tally of virus deaths still rose “substantially” in Europe over the last week to more than 29,000 new deaths, WHO said.

WHO’s Americas region saw a 41% increase in new cases, suggesting that a higher weekly death toll could soon follow there. Southeast Asia was the only region that saw a drop in cases and deaths.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Tokyo sees record number of new cases amid nationwide spike

uthorities in Japan’s capital reported nearly 500 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, the largest daily increase in Tokyo since the pandemic began, amid a nationwide spike in infections and as the country discusses with Olympic officials how to safely host next summer’s games.

The Tokyo metropolitan government said there were 493 new cases, surpassing the city’s previous high of 472 recorded on Aug. 1 during the peak of Japan’s earlier wave of infections.

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk underpass in Tokyo, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Authorities in Japan’s capital reported nearly 500 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, the largest daily increase in Tokyo since the pandemic began. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk underpass in Tokyo, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Authorities in Japan’s capital reported nearly 500 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, the largest daily increase in Tokyo since the pandemic began. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

The new cases came as International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach ended a visit to Japan to discuss how to safely host the games, which were postponed a year until next July due to the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pfizer: COVID-19 shot 95% effective, seeking clearance soon

Pfizer said Wednesday that new test results show its coronavirus vaccine is 95% effective, is safe and also protects older people most at risk of dying — the last data needed to seek emergency use of limited shot supplies as the catastrophic outbreak worsens across the globe.

The announcement from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, just a week after they revealed the first promising preliminary results of 90% effectiveness, comes as the team is preparing within days to formally ask U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of the vaccine.

They also have begun “rolling submissions” for the vaccine with regulators in Europe, the U.K. and Canada and soon will add this new data.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Bill Gates is worried about COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Bill Gates is troubled by the logistics of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.

He told STAT, which covers health care and life sciences, that states are having to manage distribution without adequate federal guidance to lead the way. At issue: getting the vaccine to people who need it the most, tracking their two doses, making sure the vaccine doesn’t expire because of the need to keep it so cold, and following how people are doing in case there are “breakthrough” infections.

“I’m worried about vaccine distribution not going to the right people,” he said. “Wow, it is a dysfunctional set of people at the moment.”

The Washington state Department of Health (DOH) released its draft plan for vaccine distribution late last month. The plan has the vaccine being distributed in several phases.

—STAT

Idaho public-health board invites anti-mask conspiracy theorists to talk COVID-19

Idaho’s Southwest District Health board invited speakers to brief them Tuesday on the COVID-19 situation — including a naturopath and a local doctor who shared false and unverified information about masks, vaccines and COVID-19 treatments.

After their remarks, doctors from around the Treasure Valley urged the board and the public to heed warnings about the coronavirus.

Idaho is “a victim of a very sophisticated psy-ops, psychological warfare,” said Dr. Vicki Wooll, who shared conspiracy theories during her presentation. “It’s getting us through social media. We are not the enemy. The enemy is coming from without.”

Protesters demonstrating against coronavirus restrictions on a street corner in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Oct. 29, 2020. Governors around the country, particularly Republican ones, are following the president’s lead in resisting new restrictions against a virus that has powerfully persisted despite lockdowns over the spring and summer. (Rajah Bose/The New York Times)
Protesters demonstrating against coronavirus restrictions on a street corner in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Oct. 29, 2020. Governors around the country, particularly Republican ones, are following the president’s lead in resisting new restrictions against a virus that has powerfully persisted despite lockdowns over the spring and summer. (Rajah Bose/The New York Times)

Wooll and a Meridian naturopath, Michael Karlfeldt, spoke to the board Tuesday for nearly an hour, claiming masks do not halt the spread of coronavirus and actually can harm the wearer — which is untrue — and questioned whether hospitals are being honest about Idaho’s COVID-19 surge, misunderstanding what “beds” are in terms of hospital capacity.

A spokesperson for the health district said that board members invited the but did not say which board members specifically invited each one.

Read the story here.

—Audrey Dutton, The Idaho Statesman

More than 3 million people in U.S. estimated to be contagious with the coronavirus

More than 3 million people in the United States have active coronavirus infections and are potentially contagious, according to a new estimate from infectious-disease experts tracking the pandemic. That number is significantly larger than the official case count, which is based solely on those who have tested positive for the virus.

Employees wait for testing supplies as Los Angeles International Airport is offering walk-up coronavirus testing for $150 in the Tom Bradley International Terminal on  Tuesday. (Keith Birmingham/The Orange County Register via AP)
Employees wait for testing supplies as Los Angeles International Airport is offering walk-up coronavirus testing for $150 in the Tom Bradley International Terminal on Tuesday. (Keith Birmingham/The Orange County Register via AP)

The vast — and rapidly growing — pool of coronavirus-infected people poses a daunting challenge to governors and mayors in hard-hit communities who are trying to arrest the surge in cases. Traditional efforts such as testing, isolation of the sick and contact tracing can be overwhelmed when a virus spreads at an exponential rate, especially when large numbers of asymptomatic people may be walking around without even knowing they are infectious.

To put the 3 million-plus figure in perspective: It is close to 1% of the population. It is about equal to the number of public schoolteachers in the country, or the number of truck drivers. If the University of Michigan’s football stadium were packed with a random selection of Americans, about a thousand of them would be contagious right now.

Read the story here.

—Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post

Estimated active coronavirus infections much higher than COVID-19 case counts

More than 3 million people in the United States have active coronavirus infections and are potentially contagious, according to a new estimate from infectious-disease experts tracking the pandemic.

That number is significantly larger than the official case count, which is based solely on those who have tested positive for the virus.

The vast — and rapidly growing — pool of coronavirus-infected people poses a daunting challenge to governors and mayors in hard-hit communities who are trying to arrest the surge in cases. Traditional efforts such as testing, isolation of the sick and contact tracing can be overwhelmed when a virus spreads at an exponential rate, especially when large numbers of asymptomatic people may be walking around without even knowing they are infectious.

To put the 3 million-plus figure in perspective: It is close to 1% of the population. It is about equal to the number of public school teachers in the country, or the number of truck drivers. If CenturyLink Field was packed to capacity with 72,000 randomly selected Americans, about 720 of them would be contagious.

—Kris Higginson

Quarantine Corner

The rain is here to stay, so let's embrace it with three walking routes to muddy your boots.

When it's time to dry off, these six fresh paperbacks might go nicely with a mug of tea and a cozy armchair.

Or curl up on the couch with Steve McQueen’s "Small Axe" series, or one of these other streaming shows.

—Kris Higginson

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Washington's COVID-19 cases shattered another record yesterday, for the fourth time in the past five days. And a Stanwood senior facility has reported 99 cases, including deadly ones, in its second significant outbreak.

After a super-spreader wedding in Eastern Washington, the tally of COVID-19 cases is climbing and new details are emerging about the indoor reception.

The FDA has approved the first at-home test for coronavirus. Here's how the rapid test works.

Pfizer says its vaccine appears to be 95% effective and it will seek emergency authorization within days. New research is providing hope about the power of vaccines, indicating that immunity to the virus may last years.

We knew this shutdown was coming. We had months to get ready, but thousands of local businesses now are twisting in the pandemic wind. Gov. Jay Inslee gets an "A" in health, but columnist Danny Westneat marks him absent on the pandemic economy so far.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, 87, third in the line of presidential succession and the longest-serving Republican senator, has the coronavirus. This shows how the marble-and-stone petri dish of the U.S. Capitol is a microcosm of the national struggle to contain the pandemic, with lawmakers — largely older Americans whose jobs involve weekly flights and near-constant congregating — struggling to adapt.

"The difference between a drop or an ocean" is significant when it comes to the levels of coronavirus in patients' bodies, according to a new UW analysis that ties the levels to the likelihood of death. Knowing patients' viral load could help identify who's most at risk, but this often goes unseen.

—Kris Higginson

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