Coronavirus daily news updates, December 17: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world – The Seattle Times

U.S. health officials are recommending most Americans get Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 shots over the one-time Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Recent data suggesting rare blood clots linked to J&J vaccines are still occurring prompted an advisory panel to suggest the CDC recommend Pfizer and Moderna over J&J, which the director accepted Thursday.
The vaccine will still be available to people who request it or have severe allergies preventing them from getting either the Pfizer or Moderna shot.
Meanwhile, South Korean officials moved to ban gatherings of 5 people or more as the country is in the middle of a virus surge. Hospitals are grappling with their deadliest month of the pandemic. Over 890 patients died in December as 989 patients were in serious or critical condition.
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.
The Swiss government said Friday it will require proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 for access to restaurants, cultural or sports events and all other indoor events as the country faces a new surge in coronavirus cases.
Strain is growing on Swiss hospitals after the total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units exceeded the crucial threshold of 300.
The Alpine country of about 8.5 million reported 9,941 new infections and 41 new COVID-related deaths from Thursday to Friday, with a 14-day incidence rate of more than 1,400 per 100,000 inhabitants — roughly a 10-fold increase from levels recorded in mid-October.

Read the story here.
The developer of Russia’s Sputnik V said Friday that its vaccine provides the best protection against the omicron variant of the coronavirus, disputing a Western study that found Sputnik produced “no neutralizing activity” against the new variant.
The Gamaleya Institute and the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which bankrolled Sputnik V and its one-shot version called Sputnik Light, said in a statement that a preliminary laboratory study showed Sputnik V had “the best virus neutralization results against omicron in comparison with other vaccines”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Sputnik V efficiency against omicron earlier Friday.
“Our Sputnik V is working well, and, perhaps, even more effective against the omicron than other vaccines used,” the president said during a congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

Read the story here.
New York state reported Friday that just over 21,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 the previous day, the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available.
One-day snapshots of virus statistics can be an unreliable way to measure trends, but the new record punctuated a steady increase that started in the western part of the state in late October, and has taken off in New York City in the past week as the omicron variant spreads.
Just under half of the positive results were in the city, where lines were growing at testing stations and some Broadway shows and the Rockettes Christmas show were cancelling performances because of outbreaks among cast members.

Read the story here.
Alaska’s largest school district is dropping its requirement that students and staff wear face masks in school buildings, starting next month, in response to lower COVID-19 case numbers, Superintendent Deena Bishop said.
The change in policy for the Anchorage School District comes after the Anchorage Assembly lifted its indoor mask mandate earlier this month, Alaska Public Media reported.
Under the district’s new policy, masking will be optional for students, teachers and staff, starting Jan. 3.

Read the story here.
The delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus are trying to spoil the holiday spirit, but there still are ways to enjoy the festivities.
The explosive spread of the omicron variant is causing many to wonder if they should cancel their holiday plans. The omicron mutation is expected to overtake the delta variant in the United States within weeks.
Health experts know that people need to spend time together, so they are offering advice. Above all, getting vaccinated remains the best defense and getting a booster shot further increases protection.

Read strategies to keep the holidays as safe as possible here.
A Kraken game has been postponed by COVID-19 for the first time this season.
Three NHL teams with COVID issues — the Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche — have postponed their games until after Christmas, the league announced Friday.
The Flames, who have 27 people in COVID protocols, were scheduled to face the Kraken on Dec. 23 in Calgary, Alberta.
Seattle has three players in COVID protocol, with Colin Blackwell possibly eligible to exit the protocol Friday. Calgary, as of Thursday night, had just six players on its active roster.

Read the story here.
Confidence in vaccines and booster shots, coupled with mounting pandemic fatigue after almost two years, will keep millions traveling over the winter holidays despite the increased uncertainty, travel watchers are predicting.
Rishabh Chauhan, a University of Illinois at Chicago doctoral candidate studying public risk perception and behavior during the pandemic, said early reports of the variant appearing to be more transmissible but less dangerous probably will leave most holiday travel plans intact.
“We think omicron might put a small dent in travel, but we haven’t heard about any mass cancellations,” Chauhan said. “But we’re living in very uncertain times. News is coming out every day, so it’s shaky to talk about the future.”

Read the story here.

King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin and other local medical experts are scheduled to talk about COVID-19 and the omicron variant in a media briefing that will be live on Facebook at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
It can be watched here: Facebook page of Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Tune in TODAY at 1:30pm for our media briefing with @DocJeffD and local experts from @UWMedicine and @fredhutch. Dr. Duchin will discuss new projections of COVID-19 spread and the #OmicronVariant in @KingCountyWA.
Watch live on our Facebook page:
All of Washington’s K-12 athletes and coaches involved in high-contact, indoor sports must get tested for COVID-19 more frequently — regardless of vaccination status, the state Department of Health announced Friday morning. The new requirements come days after the state confirmed a recent multi-county outbreak linked to high school wrestling tournaments.
The safety guidance goes into effect immediately and applies to sports such as basketball, wrestling, water polo and competitive cheer, a statement from DOH said.
According to the requirements, athletes, coaches, trainers and support personnel must get tested at least three times a week, and at least one of those tests must occur the day before a competition or game — and whenever possible, the day of the event.
The outbreaks traced to the wrestling tournaments — held in Lacey, Sumner, Puyallup and Yelm in early December — infected about 200 people, DOH said. Genomic sequencing also confirmed this week that at least three of the cases are the omicron variant, which is spreading throughout the region and world.

Read the story here.
South Africa delivered some positive news on the omicron coronavirus variant on Friday, reporting a much lower rate of hospital admissions and signs that the wave of infections may be peaking.
Only 1.7% of identified COVID-19 cases were admitted to hospital in the second week of infections in the fourth wave, compared with 19% in the same week of the third delta-driven wave, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at a news conference.
Health officials presented evidence that the strain may be milder, and that infections may already be peaking in the country’s most populous province, Gauteng.
Still, new cases in that week of the current wave were more than 20,000 a day, compared with 4,400 in the same week of the third wave. That’s further evidence of omicron’s rapid transmissibility, which a number of other countries, such as the U.K., are also now experiencing.

Read the story here.
Lines again stretch around blocks at some COVID-19 testing sites. Refrigerated mobile morgues are on order, and parts of Europe are re-tightening borders amid a winter spike in coronavirus infections.
This year’s holiday season was supposed to be a do-over for last year’s subdued celebrations. Instead it’s turning into a redux of restrictions, cancellations and rising angst over the never-ending pandemic.
“This year, more than ever, everyone needed a holiday,” said John McNulty, owner of Thief, a Brooklyn bar that had to close for a day earlier this week because of an infected employee.
As Christmas and New Year’s approach, a pall lingers over the season. Infections are soaring around the world, and the quickly spreading omicron variant has triggered new restrictions on travel and public gatherings reminiscent of the dark days of 2020.
Many Americans have spent nearly two years on an emotional seesaw as the pandemic worsened and waned in cycles and the hoped-for return to normal was repeatedly pushed back. A recent poll by MTV Entertainment Group and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that nearly half of American adults said the pandemic made it harder to maintain their mental health.
Read the story here.
Pfizer and BioNTech plan to study a three-dose regimen of their COVID-19 vaccine in young children 6 months to 4 years old, a move that may extend the wait for anxious parents as fast-spreading variants complicate clinical trials.
When tested in children ages 2 to 4, the two-shot regimen failed to meet a laboratory standard for immune response set in an older age group, according to a statement. The vaccine partners said they amended their clinical trial protocol following a request by an external, independent data monitoring committee. No safety concerns were identified among the young children.
If three doses prove successful, Pfizer and BioNTech will approach the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an emergency-use authorization for the regimen in that age group in the first half of 2022.

Read the story here.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday his government is accelerating COVID-19 booster shots and securing oral medicines after speaking with Pfizer Inc. CEO Albert Burla.
Japan has confirmed a handful of omicron variant cases, while revealing a cluster of infections of about 100 U.S. troops on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa since earlier this month.
Japan, which lacks home-developed vaccines, has so far approved booster shots from Pfizer and Moderna. Japan is also moving to shorten the interval between the second jab and boosters.
Kishida said the government will start giving booster shots to elderly people seven months after their second shot starting February. 

Read the story here.
The mugshot-style photos are posted on online message boards in black and white and look a little like old-fashioned “wanted” posters.
“The Jews own COVID just like all of Hollywood,” the accompanying text says. “Wake up people.”
The post is one of many that white supremacists and far-right extremists are using to expand their reach and recruit followers on the social media platform Telegram, according to the findings of researchers who sifted through nearly half a million comments on pages — called channels on Telegram — that they categorized as far-right from January 2020 to June 2021.
The tactic has been successful: Nine of the 10 most viewed posts in the sample examined by the researchers contained misleading claims about the safety of vaccines or the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing them. One Telegram channel saw its total subscribers jump tenfold after it leaned into COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
“COVID-19 has served as a catalyst for radicalization,” said the study’s author, Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “It allows conspiracy theorists or extremists to create simple narratives, framing it as us versus them, good versus evil.”

Read the story here.
All of the U.S. military services have now begun disciplinary actions and discharges for troops who have refused to get the mandated coronavirus vaccine, officials said, with as many as 20,000 unvaccinated forces at risk of being removed from service.
On Thursday, the Marine Corps said it has discharged 103 Marines so far for refusing the vaccine, and the Army said it has reprimanded more than 2,700 soldiers and will begin discharge proceedings in January. The Air Force said earlier this week that 27 airmen had been discharged for refusing the vaccine order. And the Navy laid out its new discipline procedure this week, and has already fired one sailor from his command job for refusing to be tested while he pursues an exemption.
Military leaders have warned for months that troops would face consequences if they did not follow what is considered to be a lawful order to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But only in the last week or so have they publicly begun following through on those threats.
It’s not clear how many could end up being discharged. But according to the services, at least 30,000 service members are not yet vaccinated, but several thousand of those have gotten temporary or permanent medical or administrative exemptions approved. Of the remaining — which is likely 20,000 or more — thousands are working their way through the exemptions process or have flatly refused. That’s about 1.5% of the roughly 1.3 million active duty troops.

Read the story here.
During the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days, it wasn’t crystal clear how well face masks were preventing coronavirus infections or severe disease among wearers. Now, a new study reveals an association between mask policies and reduced COVID-19 deaths long before vaccines were added to the picture.
Research on 44 countries in Asia and Europe including nearly 1 billion people shows nations that enacted face mask policies at the start of the pandemic had significantly lower COVID-19 deaths per million people than those that did not enforce any mask rules.
Mask policies in the U.S. and Canada were not included in the study because such actions were made at the state or province level, not at a national one, researchers said in their study published last month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Countries involved in the study included Greece, Germany, Korea, Italy, the U.K., Sweden and Hong Kong, among others.
There were more than 1.2 million confirmed COVID-19 deaths in countries without mask policies and nearly 914,000 in those with the policies between February and May 2020; average COVID-19 mortality rates per million people stood at 288 and 48, respectively.
Overall, increases in daily deaths were “significantly lower” in countries that enforced mask policies, suggesting face coverings did and do offer an additional layer of protection that “could prevent unnecessary COVID-19 deaths,” researchers said in a news release posted Wednesday.

Read the story here.
When will we ever be done with the pandemic? Gov. Jay Inslee is hoping to lift restrictions when “we become confident … our hospital systems are not going to be overwhelmed,” but for now, Washington state is preparing for the worst as omicron begins to surge here. Across the nation, exhausted Americans are feeling whiplash as worrisome signs seem to pop up everywhere. As scientists race to gauge the omicron threat, here’s what’s known and what isn’t. 
Most Americans should get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead of the J&J shot, which can cause rare blood clots, health officials said yesterday. Here’s the context and how to find vaccines and boosters in Washington state.
As omicron threatens to thwart most treatments, the U.S. is saving up one that will still work.
“Everyone is quitting.” One in five nurses say they’ll leave their careers, according to a Washington study on the steep toll COVID is exacting on front-line workers’ mental health.
As many as 20,000 U.S. troops could be discharged now that the military services have begun disciplinary actions against those who have refused to get vaccinated.


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