Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, November 26, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

A new coronavirus variant, currently identified as B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa and has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa. The World Health Organization’s technical working group is to meet today to assess the new variant and may decide whether or not to give it a name from the Greek alphabet. The British government announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

Global health leaders are urging caution as the holiday season gets underway, pointing to a 23% spike in coronavirus cases across the Americas in the past week, a surge that follows spikes in Europe — which officials warn could be a “window into the future for the Americas.” The World Health Organization reports nearly 60% of worldwide coronavirus deaths were concentrated in Europe from Nov. 15 to 21. In that time, the WHO said new cases jumped 11%. In the United States, new daily reported cases have increased 8% in the past week, hospitalizations have inched up 6% and deaths have grown 9%, according to tracking by The Washington Post.

In a study of five COVID-19 vaccines conducted by Hungarian researchers, Moderna’s vaccine was found to be 88.7% effective in protecting against coronavirus infection and 93.6% effective against COVID-related mortality, compared with 85.7% and 95.4%, respectively, for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, according to a paper published Wednesday on the website of the Clinical Microbiology and Infection medical journal. Pfizer came in third with 83.3% and 90.6%, respectively.

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

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Shots fired at police, journalists in Martinique COVID riots

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Friday that shots were fired overnight at security forces and journalists on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, as violence erupted amid protests over COVID-19 restrictions.

Several police officers have been injured, Darmanin tweeted. He added that 10 people have been arrested.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal denounced the “unacceptable” violence.

Martinique’s protesters joined this week in a movement launched by labor unions in the neighboring island of Guadeloupe to denounce France’s COVID-19 pass and mandatory vaccination for health care workers. The pass is required to access restaurants and cafes, cultural venues, sport arenas and long-distance travel.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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6 more positive COVID-19 cases at Leipzig, 9 in quarantine

German soccer club Leipzig reported six more positive coronavirus cases on Friday following its Champions League game in Belgium against Brugge.

Defender Willi Orban, forwards Yussuf Poulsen and Hugo Novoa, and goalkeeping coach Frederik Gößling all tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Belgium, while defender Mohamed Simakan and a member of the backroom staff were infected despite not traveling, Leipzig said.

Leipzig coach Jesse Marsch, goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi and another member of the coaching staff tested positive at the beginning of the week. Leipzig said they remain in quarantine.

The club carried out tests on 61 staff members on Thursday. It said it remains in regular contact with the local health authority and will continue to carry out tests on a regular basis.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Seattle Marathon returns in person with new course and COVID measures

The Seattle Marathon will be held in person for the first time since the pandemic began, this Sunday with COVID-19 protocols in place. This year’s marathon and half-marathon races feature a new course that is less likely to affect Seattle traffic but will offer less room for runners to spread out.

The course doesn’t start and finish at Seattle Center or take as many of the scenic roads as it has traditionally. Runners will instead toe the starting line at Gas Works Park and run mainly along the I-5 express lanes and on a segment of the Burke-Gilman Trail in Northeast Seattle.

Participants of the half-marathon will make a U-turn on the trail after mile 10. Those running the full 26.2 miles will go on to do a loop around Magnuson Park, between miles 12 and 16, before reaching their own U-turn just past Matthews Beach Park.

Read the full story here.

—Seattle Times graphics staff

German far-right AfD party cancels congress due to COVID

The far-right Alternative for Germany, which has opposed many of the country’s pandemic restrictions, has canceled its planned party congress next month due to the surge in coronavirus infections.

Germany has seen record infection rates in recent days and this week passed the mark of 100,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Alternative for Germany’s co-leaders said Friday that the decision to postpone the Dec. 11-12 meeting had been taken out of “duty of care and responsibility for the members, delegates, but in particular also all AfD staff as well as service personnel.”

One of the leaders of the party’s parliamentary caucus, Alice Weidel, recently contracted the virus. German public broadcaster MDR reported Thursday that the party’s leader in Thuringia state, Bjoern Hoecke, has also been infected. Several regional AfD officials have died of COVID-19.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Rapid testing for COVID-19 is the way back to ‘normal’ life

In many parts of the world, rapid COVID-19 testing is part of daily life. Despite the FDA emergency use authorization and the advocacy of many infectious disease and public health experts calling for more widespread use, the role of at-home rapid antigen tests remains unclear in the lives of most Americans. This is unfortunate, as these tests are valuable and an underutilized resource in our tool kit for living with COVID-19.

My fully vaccinated husband recently woke up with a mild cough and a headache. Having read about rapid at-home tests during the delta surge, I bought several boxed test kits to keep on hand. My husband tested positive. We quickly pulled out two more tests — one for me and one for our toddler. She was positive, I was negative.

We quickly jumped into crisis mitigation mode. My husband emailed our Seattle area day care and scheduled us for PCR tests (often nasal swab) while I texted the other parents whose toddlers share a classroom with ours. The parents all responded saying no one had been symptomatic, and folks started texting their testing plans for the day. The day care director was able to quickly review current protocols and decided to close the affected classrooms the following day. We were fortunate that our symptoms started on a holiday so that no one was at the child-care center the day my family started exhibiting symptoms. We received the results from our PCR tests 24 hours later, confirming the rapid antigen results.

Read the full story here.

— Katharine Liang, Special to The Seattle Times

New data shows Merck’s experimental COVID-19 pill is less effective than early results predicted

Drugmaker Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics released data Friday showing their experimental pill to treat COVID-19 is less effective than early clinical trials predicted, a finding that emerged as the Food and Drug Administration raised questions about the drug.

Molnupiravir, a pill that could be taken at home, had shown promise in cutting the risk of hospitalization and death by half among high-risk patients in data released by the company in October. But according to the latest findings Merck presented to the FDA, the pill reduced the risk of hospitalization and death only by 30%.

The study by the drugmakers found that, among participants receiving the pill, just one participant died during the trial, compared with nine deaths in the placebo group, the companies said in a news release Friday.

“It’s still a 30% effect, which is still good for a high-risk population,” said David Boulware, an infectious-disease physician and professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School who was not involved in Merck’s research. “It’s better than zero, and it’s a starting point, but it’s a little bit more modest.”

Read the full story here.

—Katie Shepherd, The Washington Post

UW scientist weighs in on spread of new omicron COVID variant

While the world’s newest coronavirus variant of concern, named omicron, hasn’t yet been detected in Washington state or the United States, a UW scientist said Friday that its high number of mutations is particularly concerning.

The new variant — which was first detected in South Africa and has now been seen in travelers to Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel — has about 50 mutations, about 30 of which are located in the spike protein, a primary protein the virus uses to enter our cells, said Dr. Deborah Fuller, a microbiologist at UW Medicine.

“The concern regarding the number of mutations in that region is that there’s a potential that those mutations could make our vaccines less effective because the antibody response induced against the spike protein might be less effective against those mutants,” she said.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama
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The best time to get a COVID booster shot: What the science tells us

Booster shots are rolling out across much of the world to spur protection against COVID-19, prompting questions about when exactly they should be given. While there aren’t clear-cut answers, doctors say there’s a downside to getting them too soon. 

It takes time for the immune system to build up its defenses. Following vaccination or a natural infection, cells in the lymph nodes begin to mature and improve so they’re better prepared if they encounter the pathogen again. It takes several months to build what’s known as immune memory — essentially protection galvanized by long-lived, antibody-secreting plasma cells that reside in niches such as the bone marrow.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg

U.S. to restrict travel from South Africa and other countries as it assesses risks of new omicron variant

NANTUCKET, Mass. — The United States will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting on Monday, according to a senior Biden administration official.

The policy was implemented out of “an abundance of caution in light of a new COVID-19 variant circulating in Southern Africa,” the official said. Several other countries, including France, Britain, Japan and Israel have set restrictions for air travelers arriving from southern Africa.

The restrictions will apply to travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. They do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents, the official said.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Bryan Adams tests positive for COVID for second time in a month

Bryan Adams tested positive for COVID-19 as he arrived at Milan’s Malpensa Airport on Thursday, marking the second time this month the famed Canadian singer and guitarist was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

“Here I am,” Adams wrote on Instagram, making a reference to his 2002 hit.

“[I] just arrived in Milano, and I’ve tested positive for the second time in a month for Covid. So it’s off to the hospital for me,” he wrote.

Read the full story here.

—New York Daily News
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As Washington state public schools lost students during pandemic, home-schooled population has boomed

In the wake of pandemic school closures, school districts in Washington state saw their enrollments decline by tens of thousands of students. The statewide drop, calculated between fall 2019 and fall 2020, was among the largest in the country. 

New state data from this fall shows that school systems still have not recovered their losses, leaving open questions about when — and if — these students will return.  

Between October 2019 and October 2020, 39,000 fewer students enrolled in public school, about a 3.5% drop. The numbers weren’t distributed evenly across grades — the most pronounced losses were among younger students; the number of kindergarten students plummeted by 14%. By this fall, the state’s enrollment had only grown by a thousand students.  

At the same time, the state’s home-schooled population has ballooned, nearly doubling in size during the first full school year of the pandemic, 2020-21. Many fled citing the uncertainty and logistical problems that public schools faced.

Read the full story here.

—Dahlia Bazzaz

Stocks sink on new COVID variant; Dow loses 1,000 points

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fell sharply Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 1,000 points, as a new coronavirus variant from South Africa appeared to be spreading across the globe. It added to investor uncertainty about potentially reversing months of progress at getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

Health officials in Europe and the U.K. moved quickly to propose suspending air travel from southern Africa. Meanwhile cases of the variant were found in Hong Kong, Belgium and Tel Aviv as well as major South African cities like Johannesburg.

The blue chips were down 1,050 points by late morning to 34,792. The S&P 500 index was down 2.3%, on pace for its worst day since February. The Nasdaq Composite was down 2.2%.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Poland says no new restrictions despite infection surge

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s resistance to introducing new lockdowns and restrictions amid skyrocketing COVID-19 infections and deaths is drawing criticism from the country’s medical professionals and is bucking a growing European trend to put limits on the unvaccinated.

The populist right-wing government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki appears unwilling to enact measures that would anger voters and deal another blow to an economy struggling with high inflation. In Western Europe, where vaccinations are markedly higher than Poland’s 53%, restrictions have recently led to protests and rioting.

“We certainly know at the moment that restrictions are not an effective means of limiting the growth of the pandemic,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Thursday, when 497 new deaths were recorded in Poland.

It is an idea sharply disputed by many doctors in Poland, who have been calling for the government to act.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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FDA: Merck COVID pill effective, experts will review safety

Federal health regulators say an experimental COVID-19 pill from Merck is effective against the virus, but they will seek input from outside experts on risks of birth defects and other potential problems during pregnancy.

The Food and Drug Administration posted its analysis of the pill ahead of a public meeting next week where academic and other experts will weigh in on its safety and effectiveness. The agency isn’t required to follow the group’s advice.

The FDA scientists said their review identified several potential risks, including possible toxicity and birth defects. Given those risks the FDA will ask its advisers whether the drug should never be given during pregnancy or whether it could be made available in certain cases.

Under that scenario, the FDA said the drug would carry warnings about risks during pregnancy, but doctors would still have the option to prescribe it in certain cases where its benefits could outweigh its risks for patients.

Given the safety concerns, FDA said Merck agreed the drug would not be used in children.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

U.S. needs data on variant before limiting any flights, Fauci says

More scientific data is needed about the new coronavirus variant that’s roiling global markets before the U.S. can determine whether to halt flights from southern African countries, said Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, on Friday. 

“Obviously as soon as we find out more information, we’ll make a decision as quickly as we possibly can,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN. “You always put these things on the table, but you don’t want to say you’re going to do it until you have some scientific reason to do it.”

There’s no evidence the new variant is present in the U.S., he said.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg

World takes action as new variant emerges in southern Africa

BRUSSELS (AP) — A slew of nations moved to stop air travel from southern Africa on Friday, and stocks plunged in Asia and Europe in reaction to news of a new, potentially more transmissible COVID-19 variant.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn, amid a massive spike in cases in the 27-nation European Union, which is recommending a ban on flights from southern African nations.

Within a few days of the discovery of the new variant, it has already impacted on a jittery world that is sensitive to bad COVID-19 news, with deaths around the globe standing at well over 5 million.

Medical experts, including the World Health Organization, warned against any overreaction before all elements were clear but nations who acted said their concerns were justified.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Kirkland hospital that saw early COVID patients has ‘new house’ — but it’s haunted by pandemic heartbreak

KIRKLAND — A walk through EvergreenHealth’s new brightly lit intensive care unit is calm and quiet, though a flurry of tasks keeps the medical team busy. Some nurses swiftly and expertly pull on respirators and yellow gowns before slipping into rooms with COVID-19 patients, while others have their eyes glued to computer screens monitoring patient activity. Therapists and environmental technicians move in and out of rooms, going through daily check-in or cleaning routines.

The new ICU opened its doors in July, after more than a year of caring for the hospital’s sickest and earliest pandemic patients.

“It was like moving into a new house,” said Merry van Zoeren, a nurse manager in the ICU.

The 22,000-square-foot facility is spacious, nearly twice the size of the former unit, with nature scenes mounted on the walls, large glass doors and warm wood paneling. But the most significant differences from the past 20 months lie beneath the surface — in the hospital workers who have learned to adapt to new procedures and reevaluate personal priorities in the workplace, all while struggling to find resilience throughout a pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama

Catch up on the past 24 hours

A slew of nations rushed to stop air travel from South Africa today after news of a coronavirus variant that may be more contagious and harder to contain with vaccines. But "it's really important that there are no knee-jerk responses," a global health official warns. Here's what experts do and don't know about the variant, which has already spread outside South Africa — via a vaccinated traveler in at least one case. Stock markets are dropping in reaction, and advisers to the World Health Organization are holding a special session today to chart the next steps.

The Kirkland hospital that saw some of the nation's first COVID-19 patients looks like "a new house" now, after changes big and small swept through. But the most significant differences lie beneath the surface in the lives of the hospital workers, who are haunted by the thousands of deaths. And after more than 600 days of this, the COVID-19 patients keep coming.

When to get a booster shot: The best timing likely depends on a few factors, researchers say as their understanding evolves. Here's what the science tells us, and how to find a booster in the Seattle area.

Europe's COVID-19 surge could be a "window into the future" for Americans, health leaders are warning as cases climb quickly in parts of the United States.

—Kris Higginson