Washington state officials are focused on vaccinating healthcare workers and long-term care residents, with more doses expected soon. Today, an independent panel of experts is expected to release guidance on who should receive vaccines next, which will shape the state’s next steps.

Congress may vote on an economic relief bill as soon as today, after months of delays. Lawmakers say the package, which will cost nearly $1 trillion, includes supplemental unemployment benefits, direct stimulus payments, subsidies for hard-hit businesses and funding for schools, healthcare providers and renters facing eviction.

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.

Starting on Dec. 21, we will not have this daily COVID-19 graphic in our Monday print edition, as the state Department of Health will no longer be reporting coronavirus data on Sundays. Data on Mondays will now incorporate the case and hospitalization counts from the previous day.

Starting on Dec. 21, we will not have this daily COVID-19 graphic in our Monday print edition, as the state Department of Health will no longer be reporting coronavirus data on Sundays. Data on Mondays will now incorporate the case and hospitalization counts from the previous day.

It’s Unclear If U.S. Has the U.K. Virus Mutation, Slaoui Says

It’s not clear whether a more transmissible variant of the coronavirus that prompted tighter restrictions in the U.K. has made its way to the U.S., according to Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for the government’s vaccine acceleration program.

“We don’t know,” Slaoui said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” on Sunday. “We’re looking at that.”

Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir questioned the threat posed by the virus changes cited by the U.K. government, saying it has mutated more than 4,000 times since its discovery. There’s no imminent need to suspend flights from the U.K., he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“We don’t know that it’s more dangerous, and very importantly we have not seen a single mutation yet that would make it evade the vaccine,” and while that can’t be ruled out for the future, “I don’t think there should be any reason for alarm right now,” Giroir said.

The new variant may be as much as 70% more transmissible, which led U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce a lockdown for London and large parts of southeast England on Saturday. He canceled plans to ease pandemic restrictions for five days over the holidays, and banned household mixing in London and the southeast while restricting socializing to just Christmas Day across the rest of England.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg

COVID-19 ripped through communities east of the Cascades, killing people at twice the rate of Western Washington

SOAP LAKE, Grant County — For months, McKay Healthcare & Rehab staff kept its elderly residents safe from COVID-19. But in late October, the virus slipped into the center’s 8-decade-old building.

By mid-December, 15 of the 31 residents had died from the disease.

In the struggle to fight the virus, some staff members worked 24-hour shifts to cover for co-workers who tested positive and had to stay home.

As Christmas approaches and wreaths decorate the center’s long narrow hallway, the outbreak is over. But most of the beds are empty. So McKay’s administrator, Erica Gaertner, says she is forced into an economic reckoning, and must reduce hours or pay of some of the employees with whom she joined in the searing struggle to save lives.

“These are hard conversations. The very people who got us through this are the very ones I have too many of,” Gaertner said.

The death toll at nonprofit McKay, located in a farming community of fewer than 1,500 people at the edge of a remote mineral-rich lake, is stark evidence of the long reach of COVID-19 across Central and Eastern Washington.

Read the full story here.

—Hal Bernton

Several EU nations halt UK flights, fearing virus variant

BERLIN (AP) — One by one, several European Union nations banned flights from the U.K. on Sunday and others like Germany were considering such action, all in hopes of blocking a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from establishing a strong foothold on the continent.

The Netherlands banned flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year while Belgium issued a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight and also halted train links to Britain, including the Eurostar. Austria and Italy said they would halt flights from the U.K. but did not say exactly when that would take place.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Twitter that the government was preparing the ban “to protect Italians” from the new coronavirus variant. About two dozen flights were scheduled to arrive in Italy on Sunday, most in the northern region of Lombardy but also to Venice and Rome.

German officials, meanwhile, said they were considering “serious options” regarding incoming flights from the U.K. and the Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain. An EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were still ongoing, said Sunday afternoon that the EU Commission was in touch with member states on the rapidly developing situation.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

2nd COVID-19 vaccine authorized in US ships out

OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. (AP) — Initial shipments of the second COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S. left a distribution center Sunday, a desperately needed boost as the nation works to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control.

The trucks left the factory in the Memphis area with the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health. The much-needed shots are expected to be given starting Monday, just three days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized their emergency rollout.

Later Sunday, an expert committee will debate who should be next in line for early doses of the Moderna vaccine and a similar one from Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech. Pfizer’s shots were first shipped out a week ago and started being used the next day, kicking off the nation’s biggest vaccination drive.

Public health experts say the shots — and others in the pipeline — are the only way to stop a virus that has been spreading wildly. Nationwide, more than 219,000 people per day on average test positive for the virus, which has killed at least 314,000 in the U.S. and upwards of 1.7 million worldwide.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID-19 added new element of risk to the Grant County agriculture season

QUINCY, Grant County — Last spring’s arrival of COVID-19 loomed as a disruptive new threat to those who make their living from the land. Some feared that the virus would sweep the ranks of the agricultural labor force, leaving county farmers and growers short-handed to harvest crops and pick fruit.

This year, the virus sickened some workers and caused upheaval in key potato markets. But no Grant County workers died, according to the county health district, and COVID-19 did not cripple county agriculture, which in a typical year generates more than $1 billion in sales.

“This was new for everybody — taking people’s temperatures and keeping people separate certainly is not natural,” said Lisa Karstetter, who with husband Kent Karstetter grows fruit and other crops on nearly 1,500 acres. “We all came together to do the best we could with the cards we were dealt.”

Read the full story here.

—Hal Bernton



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