Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, November 27, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
The World Health Organization is cautioning of a new COVID-19 variant called “omicron.” Though the actual risks are not yet understood, health officials say people who had COVID-19 and recovered could become ill again, and it’s unknown whether current vaccines are less effective against omicron.
In an effort to contain the possible spread of the new variant as its risks are assessed, the Biden administration announced it will restrict travel from South Africa and several other countries beginning Monday. The travel restrictions do not affect U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Doctors in Poland continue to criticize government officials who refuse to introduce additional COVID-19 restrictions for unvaccinated citizens, despite recent surges in cases. The rise in infections pushed authorities to open temporary hospitals. Thousands of children have been quarantined and school-aged children began remote learning as COVID-19 outbreaks continue in the country.
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.
As omicron variant circles the globe, African nations face blame and bans
Nations in southern Africa protested bitterly Saturday as more of the world’s wealthiest countries cut them off from travel, renewing a debate over border closures from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and compounding the problems facing poorly vaccinated countries.
A new coronavirus variant called omicron, first detected in Botswana, put governments on edge after South Africa announced a surge of cases this week, plunging countries into the most uncertain moment of the pandemic since the highly contagious delta variant took hold this past spring.
As in the early days of delta, political alarm spread quickly across the world, with officials trading blame over how the failures of the global vaccination effort were allowing the virus to mutate, even as researchers warned that the true threat of the new variant was not yet clear.
Bearing a worrying number of mutations that researchers fear could make it spread easily, omicron was spotted Saturday in patients in Britain, Germany and Italy, leaving in its wake what scientists estimated to be thousands of cases in southern Africa and tens or hundreds more globally. One nation after another shut its doors to southern Africa even as they spurned public health measures that scientists said were far more urgently needed to take on the new variant.
Protection offered by booster shot beats ‘natural immunity,’ study suggests
Public health officials have been struggling to persuade eligible Americans to get their COVID-19 booster shots. New research could help them make the case that the extra dose will provide substantially more protection — even if they’ve also recovered from a coronavirus infection.
A small study that’s among the first to track people’s protective antibodies over time found that those who were immunized against COVID-19 with two doses of an mRNA vaccine and received a booster shot about eight months later saw their levels of neutralizing antibodies skyrocket.
Study leader Alexis Demonbreun, a cell biologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said the data demonstrate that no matter how well protected a vaccinated person may think she is, getting a booster shot is likely to increase her neutralizing antibodies — and with it, her immunity — considerably. And because scientists expect large antibody responses to create more durable immunity, the protection afforded by the booster should last longer than the initial two-shot regimen.
The study was posted on MedRxiv, a website where researchers share preliminary findings.
As coronavirus spreads, nursing homes lag behind on the rollout for booster shots
A Connecticut nursing home had planned to roll out COVID booster shots to residents at the beginning of this month.
But before it could start the program, the coronavirus swept through the home, infecting 89 people, including 67 residents. Nearly all were fully vaccinated.
Eight of the residents died from COVID, according to the home, which described all as having “serious underlying health issues.”
The severity of the outbreak helped spur Connecticut officials to announce recently that the state would set up booster clinics at all of its nursing homes to cover those facilities that had yet to administer additional doses.
Several states are experiencing new surges in COVID cases, especially in the Midwest and the Northeast. And fresh outbreaks have been reported this month at nursing homes in Vermont, Virginia and elsewhere despite a monthslong vaccination rate nationwide of about 86% among residents in skilled nursing facilities.
Booster programs have taken on more urgency given that nearly 4,000 new COVID cases are reported every week in nursing homes, according to federal data, and experts say many of the case clusters are occurring in homes that have yet to administer the extra doses.
Oregon offers to pay pharmacies to administer COVID vaccines
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority is offering to pay pharmacies $35 for each dose of COVID-19 vaccine they administer, with the intention to boost vaccination rates.
Based on the health authority’s database, 79% of people 18 years or older in Oregon have received at least their first vaccine dose.
In addition, the Statesman Journal reports that the program — which launched this month — directly addresses staffing shortages at pharmacies, where growing workloads have resulted in long lines across the state. In some cases, customers have reported having to wait two or three hours to pick up their prescriptions.
The state is offering to pay temporary pharmacists in order to bolster workforces, said Rudy Owens, a public affairs specialist for the Oregon Health Authority.
However, the temporary staffing program is only available to independent pharmacies. Corporate-owned pharmacies are not eligible, but they can still receive vaccine payments from the state.
How omicron, the new COVID-19 variant, got its name
Markets plunged Friday, hope of taming the coronavirus dimmed and a new term entered the pandemic lexicon: omicron.
The COVID-19 variant that emerged in South Africa was named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
The naming system, announced by the World Health Organization in May, makes public communication about variants easier and less confusing, the agency and experts said.
For example, the variant that emerged in India is not popularly known as B.1.617.2. Rather, it is known as delta, the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet.
There are now seven “variants of interest” or “variants of concern,” and they each have a Greek letter, according to a WHO tracking page.
Why you can’t find cheap at-home COVID tests
While developing a rapid test that detects the coronavirus in someone’s saliva, Blink Science, a Florida-based startup, heard something startling: The Food and Drug Administration had more than 3,000 emergency use authorization applications and didn’t have the resources to get through them.
“We want to try to avoid the EUA quagmire,” said Peb Hendrix, the startup’s vice president of operations. Its test is still in early development. On the advice of consultants, the company is weighing an alternative route through the FDA to the U.S. market.
“It’s just the way our government works,” Hendrix said, which is a challenge for businesses that are “anxious to get started and think they’ve got something that can help.”
The U.S. produced COVID-19 vaccines in record time, but, nearly two years into the pandemic, consumers have few options for cheap tests that quickly screen for infection, though they are widely available in Europe. Experts say the paucity of tests and their high prices undermine efforts in the U.S. to return to normal life.
Student fights and assaults on teachers trouble Florida schools amid pandemic
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — When students returned to school this year, they brought with them pent up energy from a tough time in near isolation during the pandemic.
Now, reports of fights, criminal batteries and fear of violence are becoming an unwelcome part of students’ full return to in-person education.
While the violence isn’t happening at every school, many are seeing the problems erupt on more South Florida campuses than in the past. There are reports of teachers, security staff and administrators being knocked to the ground. Footage of students fighting is often shared on TikTok and other social media.
WA has no plans to declare state of emergency over omicron variant yet, Inslee's office says
The state of Washington has no immediate plans to declare a new state of emergency following New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's decision Friday to impose emergency measures for her state in light of rising COVID cases and the looming threat of the omicron variant detected overseas.
"We are keeping a close eye on developments, but no immediate plans at this time," said Gov. Jay Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee on Saturday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that no cases of the omicron variant, first detected in South Africa, have been identified in the U.S. The delta variant is the dominant variant in Washington state, according to the state Department of Health.
The newest variant has concerned scientists locally and abroad in recent days over the number of mutations it displays on the virus's spike protein, which could affect vaccine resistance.
“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,” UW Medicine microbiologist Dr. Deborah Fuller told The Seattle Times this week.
The omicron variant has been detected in Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Belgium, Israel and the United Kingdom. Hochul's emergency declaration allows New York state's Health Department to limit nonessential and non-urgent hospital care until Jan. 15 to conserve hospital capacity.
Italy, Germany report cases of omicron COVID-19 variant
LONDON — News reports in Italy and Germany say that both countries have confirmed cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant.
The Italian news agency LaPresse says an Italian who traveled to Mozambique has tested positive for the omicron variant.
The business traveler landed in Rome on Nov. 11 and returned to his home near Naples. Five family members, including two school-age children, have also tested positive. All are isolating in the Naples suburb of Caserta in good condition with light symptoms.
The variant was confirmed by Sacco hospital in Milan, and Italy’s National Health Institute said the man had received two doses of the vaccine. Italy’s health ministry is urging all regions to increase its tracing of the virus and sequencing to detect cases of the new variant first identified in South Africa.
In Germany, the Max von Pettenkofer Institute, a Munich-based microbiology center, said that the omicron variant was confirmed in two travelers who arrived on a flight from South Africa on Nov. 24. The head of the institute, Oliver Keppler, said that genome sequencing has yet to be completed, but it is “proven without doubt that it is this variant,” German news agency dpa reported.
UK plans new measures to combat omicron coronavirus variant
LONDON — The U.K. government on Saturday said that it was planning new measures to combat the omicron COVID-19 variant, including mandatory PCR tests for all arriving international travelers and ramping up the use of face masks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the measures at a news conference alongside his chief medical officers.
Hours earlier, the U.K. health secretary confirmed that two people tested positive with the omicron variant and that the cases are linked and related to travel from southern Africa.
Omicron COVID variant feared at Amsterdam airport as the Netherlands enters night-time lockdown
Two planes carrying some 600 passengers from South Africa brought 61 people infected with COVID to the Netherlands, Dutch health authorities said Saturday after halting flights from several southern African countries over fears of the new omicron variant.
Passengers were tested at the airport and those with infections will be isolated at a hotel, a regional Dutch health agency said. The health body did not immediately return a request for comment early Saturday on whether the omicron variant was detected among the positive samples, though it has said researchers were racing to make a determination “as soon as possible.”
New York declares COVID state of emergency as Gov. Hochul warns omicron variant ‘is coming’
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency in response to a winter coronavirus spike and the threat of the newly detected omicron variant on Friday, making her state one of the first in the country to impose measures against the mutation that was recently sequenced in southern Africa.
As part of the emergency, the state’s Health Department will be allowed to protect hospital capacity by limiting nonessential and non-urgent care until at least Jan. 15. Hospitals with less than 10% staffed bed capacity, or those designated by the state, will be authorized to screen patients and restrict admissions to keep beds open for the most urgent cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that omicron had not yet been detected in the United States, though Hochul said of the variant: “it’s coming.”
German minister hopes patient transfers are a ‘wake-up call’
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister said Saturday he hopes that the sight of air force planes transferring patients across the country will act as a “wake-up call” to millions who are still holding out on getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said there has been a welcome increase over the past week in the number of people getting their first shots, with 450,000 recorded. He put that down to pressure from Germany’s worsening coronavirus situation and to increasing requirements to people to provide proof of vaccination or recent recovery to take part in many activities.
But it’s still not enough and “this figure of nearly 12 million unvaccinated adults is still far, far too high,” Spahn said at an online town hall event. So far, 68.4% of the population of 83 million people is fully vaccinated, below the 75% minimum threshold eyed by the government. There are significant regional variations.
Biden sees COVID as culprit for country’s woes
WASHINGTON — Inflation is soaring, businesses are struggling to hire and President Joe Biden’s poll numbers have been in free-fall. The White House sees a common culprit for it all: COVID-19.
Biden’s team views the pandemic as the root cause of both the nation’s malaise and his own political woes. Finally controlling COVID-19, the White House believes, is the skeleton key to rejuvenating the country and reviving Biden’s own standing.
But the coronavirus challenge has proved to be vexing for the White House, with last summer’s premature claims of victory swamped by the more transmissible delta variant, stubborn millions of Americans unvaccinated and lingering economic effects from the pandemic’s darkest days.
All of that as yet another variant of the virus, omicron, emerged overseas. It is worrying public health officials, leading to new travel bans and panicking markets as scientists race to understand how dangerous it may be.
World on alert as UK reports cases of omicron COVID variant
LONDON — Britain became the latest country Saturday to report cases of the new potentially more contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus as governments around the world sought to shore up their defenses by slapping restrictions on travel from nations in southern Africa.
Amid fears that the recently identified new variant has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, there are growing concerns that the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will persist for far longer than hoped.
U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that two people have tested positive with the omicron variant and that the cases are linked and related to travel from southern Africa. One is in the southeastern English town of Brentwood, while the other is in the central city of Nottingham. The government had earlier said one of the locations was Chelmsford, and it didn’t give any reason for the change.
UK health secretary says that 2 cases of new coronavirus variant omicron identified in Britain, says they are linked
LONDON — UK health secretary says that 2 cases of new coronavirus variant omicron identified in Britain, says they are linked.
This is a developing story.
Countries move to cut air links with southern Africa amid news of virulent new coronavirus variant
LONDON — As alarm over a new, possibly more infectious coronavirus variant spread around the world, France, Britain, Japan and Israel began to ban or order quarantines for air passengers arriving from the southern African region.
Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to Britain’s Health and Security Agency, warned that the new variant found in southern Africa is the “most worrying we’ve seen.”
The European Union is expected to also propose a ban on air travel arriving from southern Africa. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the proposal Friday morning on Twitter and said she is coordinating with the bloc’s 27 member states.
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