Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Oct. 28, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 expects about 316,000 doses of kid-sized Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in the state by the end of next week for children between 5 and 11, pending federal authorization, state health officials said Wednesday. The kid-sized dose, which is equal to one-third of the adult Pfizer vaccine dose, still needs the emergency authorization of the Food and Drug Administration and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The CDC’s committee meets next Tuesday and Wednesday.
A cheap antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults with COVID-19 in a study hunting for existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat coronavirus. Fluvoxamine, which is used to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder and is known to reduce inflammation, would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment. By comparison, antibody IV treatments cost about $2,000 and Merck’s experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 is about $700 per course. Many poor nations already have fluvoxamine readily available.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.
Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Feds: Man used virus relief loan to buy $57,000 Pokemon card
A Georgia man pleaded guilty Thursday to illegally obtaining a coronavirus relief loan and using more than $57,000 of the money to buy a collectable Pokemon card.
Vinath Oudomsine of Dublin, Georgia, faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of wire fraud, acting U.S. Attorney David Estes of the Southern District of Georgia said in a statement.
Prosecutors said in a legal filing that Oudomsine, 31, submitted false information to the U.S. Small Business Administration last year when he applied for a COVID-19 relief loan for an “entertainment services” business he claimed to own. They said he lied about how many people he employed as well as his business’ annual revenues.
He received $85,000 from the loan program, prosecutors said, and used it to buy a Pokemon trading card for $57,789.
UK eases travel, takes all countries off virus ‘red list’
Britain on Thursday said it was removing the last seven countries on its travel “red list,” meaning travelers vaccinated against the coronavirus will no longer have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel after arriving in the U.K.
The countries are Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. Once the change takes effect on Monday, fully vaccinated travelers will no longer have to stay in a quarantine hotel for 11 nights at a cost of more than $3,000.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the red category would remain “as a precautionary measure” in case it was needed later. He said Britain will also recognize vaccinations given in more than 30 additional countries, including Peru and Uganda, bringing the total to more than 135.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said the latest move was “a welcome and a significant step forward to normalizing international travel.”
U.S. jobless claims drop to pandemic low of 281,000
In Washington state, new initial claims for unemployment benefits rose 17.4% to 5,775 for the week that ended Oct. 23, from 4,917 the prior week, according to data from the federal Department of Labor.
However, nationally the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to a pandemic low last week as the job market continues to recover from last year’s coronavirus recession.
The Washington state Employment Security Department reports its own figures later Thursday; those often differ slightly from the federal numbers.
Across the country, jobless claims dropped by 10,000 to 281,000, lowest since mid-March 2020, the Labor Department said Thursday. Since topping 900,000 in early January, weekly applications have steadily dropped, moving ever closer to pre-pandemic levels just above 200,000.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week gyrations, fell by nearly 21,000 to 299,250, also a pandemic low.
In all, 2.2 million people were collecting unemployment checks the week of Oct. 16, down from 7.7 million a year earlier.
Judge won’t stop vaccine mandate for NYC cops, other workers
A New York judge on Wednesday refused to pause a COVID-19 vaccine mandate set to begin Friday for the city’s municipal workforce, denying a police union’s request for a temporary restraining order.
Judge Lizette Colon said the mandate can take effect as scheduled while also ordering city officials to appear in court Nov. 12 to defend the requirement against a union lawsuit seeking to have it declared illegal.
Police officers, firefighters and most other city workers must show proof they’ve gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by 5 p.m. Friday. Previously, city workers were able to show proof of a negative test to stay on the job.
Workers who don’t comply will be put on unpaid leave starting Monday.
As a result, the city’s fire department said it was preparing to close 20% of its fire companies and have 20% fewer ambulances in service.
Colon, whose court is on Staten Island, issued the ruling hours after hearing arguments from lawyers for the Police Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union, and the city, which prevailed in arguing the mandate should be implemented without delay.
Vaccine reluctance in Eastern Europe brings high COVID cost
Truck driver Andriy Melnik never took the coronavirus seriously. With a friend, he bought a fake vaccination certificate so his travel documents would appear in order when he hauled cargo to other parts of Europe.
The Ukrainian changed his mind after the friend caught COVID-19 and ended up in an intensive care unit on a ventilator.
“It’s not a tall tale. I see that this disease kills, and strong immunity wouldn’t be enough — only a vaccine can offer protection,” said Melnik, 42, as he waited in Kyiv to get his shot. “I’m really scared and I’m pleading with doctors to help me correct my mistake.”
Ukraine is suffering through a surge in coronavirus infections, along with other parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. While vaccines are plentiful, there is a widespread reluctance to get them in many countries .
The slow pace of vaccinations in Eastern Europe is rooted in several factors, including public distrust and past experience with other vaccines, said Catherine Smallwood, the World Health Organization’s Europe COVID-19 incident manager.
For Melnik, the Ukrainian truck driver, the fear of getting COVID-19 outweighed all other concerns.
“You can’t cheat this illness,” he said. “You can buy a counterfeit certificate, but you can’t buy antibodies. Ukrainians are slowly starting to realize there is no alternative to vaccination.”
Is it OK to go trick-or-treating during the pandemic?
Is it OK to go trick-or-treating during the pandemic? It depends on the situation and your comfort level, but there are ways to minimize the risk of infection this Halloween.
Whether you feel comfortable with your children trick-or-treating could depend on factors including how high the COVID-19 transmission rate is in your area and if the people your kids will be exposed to are vaccinated.
But trick-or-treating is an outdoor activity that makes it easy to maintain a physical distance. To prevent kids crowding in front of doors, experts suggest neighbors coordinate to spread out trick-or-treating.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says outdoor activities are safer for the holidays, and to avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. If you attend a party inside, the agency says people who aren’t vaccinated — including children who aren’t yet eligible for the shots — should wear a well-fitting mask, not just a Halloween costume mask. In areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates, even the fully vaccinated should wear masks inside.
It’s generally safe for children to ring doorbells and collect candy, since the coronavirus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets and the risk of infection from surfaces is considered low. But it’s still a good idea to bring along hand sanitizer that kids can use before eating treats.
Disaster prep kits get a makeover
Before last year, Whitney McGuire hadn’t seriously considered stashing an emergency survival kit in her home. But as 2020’s record-breaking fire season descended on the West Coast, McGuire, a lawyer, sustainability strategist and mother who lives in Brooklyn, found herself considering what she might need to prepare if climate-change-related disaster were to strike closer to home.
“I was feeling an incredible amount of anxiety about everything, and I wanted to feel like I had some agency in whatever the apocalypse is going to look like for me,” she said.
McGuire, 35, started to shop online for supplies, and stumbled into the burgeoning world of stylish emergency preparedness brands.
According to Aaron Levy, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s individual and community preparedness division, recent surveys indicate that the country is in the middle of “a tidal wave of culture change” when it comes to disaster prepping.
“I think we’re starting to see a shift in the assumption that, ‘This can’t happen where I live,’ ” Levy said.
Though government agencies like FEMA and nonprofits like the Red Cross have long sought to prepare people for the possibility of disaster, the rise of for-profit companies working in the same space reflects just how big that shift actually is.
There are companies in this category that have been around for years, selling streamlined backpacks with small shovels, stormproof matches and water filters and extensive first-aid supplies packaged in utilitarian bags. But now there is a new wave of emergency preparation companies has arisen: ones that cater to a more style-conscious clientele.
Merriam-Webster nods to pandemic by adding ‘ghost kitchen’ and ‘curbside pickup’
It’s clear that the pandemic has changed dining as we know it, sometimes in potentially permanent ways. Now, so many of the catchphrases we got to know while eating in the COVID era are making their way into the firmament of the lexicon.
Ever order a burger from a “ghost kitchen” for “curbside delivery”? Merriam-Webster is enshrining both those expressions in its dictionary, two of a crop of food-related words that seem to capture our collective moment.
A “ghost kitchen,” according to its entry, is “a commercial cooking facility used for the preparation of food consumed off the premises,” and “curbside delivery” is a “service in which purchased items are brought to customers who wait in their automobiles in a designated area near the establishment.” Which is not to be confused with “curbside pickup,” another addition to the dictionary. Or another, “dine-in,” for that matter.
Many people might already know what these phrases mean, but their addition to the dictionary is a sign that they have entered common usage. “We define a word when we have evidence that it’s fully established in the language,” says Emily Brewster, a senior editor at Merriam-Webster.
Documents show Facebook withheld key data about power, spread of COVID and vaccine misinformation
Facebook researchers had deep knowledge of how coronavirus and vaccine misinformation moved through the company’s apps, running multiple studies and producing large internal reports on what kinds of users were most likely to share falsehoods about the deadly virus, according to documents disclosed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
But even as academics, lawmakers and the White House urged Facebook for months to be more transparent about the misinformation and its effects on the behavior of its users, the company refused to share much of this information publicly, resulting in a public showdown with the Biden administration.
Internally, Facebook employees showed that coronavirus misinformation was dominating small sections of its platform, creating “echo-chamber-like effects” and reinforcing vaccine hesitancy. Other researchers documented how posts by medical authorities, like the World Health Organization, were often swarmed by anti-vaccine commenters, hijacking a pro-vaccine message and wrapping it in a stream of falsehoods.
Taken together, the documents underline just how extensively Facebook was studying coronavirus and vaccine misinformation on its platform as the virus tore across the world, unearthing findings that concerned its own employees.
Some immunocompromised people may get 4th COVID vaccine dose
Some U.S. adults with weakened immune systems who received a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine authorized just for them will become eligible for a fourth shot as a booster next year, according to updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“In such situations, people who are moderately and severely immunocompromised may receive a total of four vaccine doses,” with the fourth coming at least six months after the third, the CDC guidelines said.
In August, federal regulators cleared a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for some immunocompromised recipients of those vaccines, instructing them to get it at least 28 days after their second shot. Federal agencies said studies have shown that those people may not be adequately protected by just two shots.
The earliest that immunocompromised people who received a third mRNA vaccine shot can get a fourth shot as a booster would be February.
California virus cases stop falling, governor urges caution
California Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled up his sleeve Wednesday and received a coronavirus vaccine booster shot, a move he encouraged others to take as the state heads into the time of year that in 2020 ushered in the deadliest spike of COVID-19 cases.
Much has changed since then — 88% of those 18 and older in California have received at least one dose of a vaccine that didn’t exist last fall and millions have survived contracting the virus and have a level of natural immunity, though it’s unclear for how long.
Still, millions are not vaccinated and new cases and hospitalizations have flattened after a steady two-month decline that saw California boast the nation’s lowest infection rate. State models show a gradual increase in hospitalizations in the next month.
“This is an incredibly important time because what tends to happen this time — it happened last year — is our attention wanes,” Newsom said. “We start focusing on other things. And as a consequence, we can let our guard down.”
The state seems to have reached what Ghaly called a plateau after its steady decline in cases and hospitalizations since the summer surge of the delta variant of the virus.
Hungary official: Employers can require vaccination for work
Hungary’s government will allow private employers to require that their employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for work as the number of new infections and deaths in the country reaches levels not seen since a devastating pandemic surge last spring.
At a government news conference Thursday, the prime minister’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas announced that the central government would also opt to require vaccination for public employees, but that mayors in local municipalities could decide whether to impose the requirement.
The wearing of masks on public transportation will be mandatory beginning Monday, and non-essential visits to public health care institutions will be prohibited, Gulyas said.
The measures came as Hungary is experiencing a sharp spike in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. On Thursday, 4,039 new cases were registered — the highest daily total since mid-April and nearly double the number from a week earlier.
The number of daily deaths also reached a peak not seen since May with 45.
Norway sees rising infections, braces for winter virus wave
A top Norwegian health official said the Scandinavian country “must be prepared for a bigger wave” of COVID-19 infections this winter as the country is already seeing an increase in cases.
“Based on an overall assessment, we believe it is likely that we will get a wave (of infections) during the winter,” said Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
But, with more than 86.6% of those 18 and over vaccinated in Norway, she said she did not expect a large surge of hospitalizations.
The city of Tromsoe in northern Norway said Thursday it had seen 62 new cases in the last day, a local record. Gunnar Wilhelmsen, mayor of the city of 77,000, said authorities were recommending using face masks, social distancing and working from home.
Moscow shuts most workplaces as infections, deaths soar
The Russian capital on Thursday started a shut down intended to stem coronavirus infections as new daily cases and deaths from COVID-19 surged to all-time highs.
The government coronavirus task force reported 1,159 deaths in 24 hours, the largest daily tally since the pandemic began. The country’s official death toll from the pandemic, by far the highest in Europe, now stands at 235,057,
To slow the spread of the virus, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a nonworking period from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, when most state organizations and private businesses are to suspend operations. He encouraged the most affected regions to start sooner, and some ordered most of their residents off work earlier this week.
Moscow followed Thursday, shutting kindergartens, schools, gyms, entertainment venues and most stores, and allowing restaurants and cafes to only provide service for takeout or delivery. Food stores, pharmacies and companies operating key infrastructure remained open.
Putin has also instructed local officials to close nightclubs and other entertainment venues, and ordered unvaccinated people older than 60 to stay home.
Cheap antidepressant shows promise treating early COVID-19
A cheap antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults with COVID-19 in a study hunting for existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat coronavirus.
Researchers tested the pill used for depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder because it was known to reduce inflammation and looked promising in smaller studies.
They’ve shared the results with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which publishes treatment guidelines, and they hope for a World Health Organization recommendation.
“If WHO recommends this, you will see it widely taken up,” said study co-author Dr. Edward Mills of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, adding that many poor nations have the drug readily available. “We hope it will lead to a lot of lives saved.”
The pill, called fluvoxamine, would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment. By comparison, antibody IV treatments cost about $2,000 and Merck’s experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 is about $700 per course. Some experts predict various treatments eventually will be used in combination to fight the coronavirus.
Researchers tested the antidepressant in nearly 1,500 Brazilians recently infected with coronavirus who were at risk of severe illness because of other health problems, such as diabetes. About half took the antidepressant at home for 10 days, the rest got dummy pills. They were tracked for four weeks to see who landed in the hospital or spent extended time in an emergency room when hospitals were full.
In the group that took the drug, 11% needed hospitalization or an extended ER stay, compared to 16% of those on dummy pills.
The results, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Global Health, were so strong that independent experts monitoring the study recommended stopping it early because the results were clear.
Huge skeletons are just part of how we live now
In April, Jake Levin got a letter from his homeowners association. “The giant skeleton on [the] front lawn needs to be put away,” it said. “Holiday decor needs to be taken down immediately after the holiday.”
The giant skeleton in question was Indiana Bones, the 12-foot Home Depot skeleton Levin, 27, bought from a reseller for $525 amid the madness of last October.
But one does not simply put away a 12-foot skeleton, and so Levin had adapted Indiana Bones to each subsequent holiday: a turkey leg for Thanksgiving, a Santa suit for Christmas, a leprechaun costume for St. Patrick’s Day. This tactic, along with a conspiracy among neighbors to move Indiana Bones periodically from yard to yard, has allowed Levin to avoid any fines.
Nevertheless, he understands that a disapproving HOA is not the only threat to the 12-foot skeleton.
“It kind of loses its wow factor when it’s just there all the time,” says Levin
Where do we go from here? It’s a question many people are asking in the aftermath of 2020, but especially those who spent $300 or more last year on gigantic skeletons.
They were the perfect accessory to an extreme year. As life resumes its normal proportions, do you stand them down? Or do you escalate?
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Washington kids may be getting COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next week. More than 300,000 kid-sized doses are expected to arrive shortly after the feds sign off. A state official laid out where those doses will go and how the state is changing its quarantine options to keep more kids in classrooms.
A cheap antidepressant shows promise treating early COVID-19, a new study indicates. A course of treatment would cost about $4, massively less expensive than the other treatments that are available or in the works.
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