Live: Coronavirus daily news updates, January 16: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

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Live: Coronavirus daily news updates, January 16: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

On the day the global death toll from COVID-19 topped 2 million, United States health officials warned that the variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain could become the dominant source of infection in the country by March.

In Washington, none of the state’s eight regions is ready to progress to Phase 2 of the state’s new reopening plan that began Monday. If the virus variant continues to spread, it will be like “throwing gasoline on a COVID-19 wildfire,” a King County health officer said Friday.

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.

LIVE

10:44 am

UN: Pandemic reduced migrants by 2 million by mid-2020

FILE – In this April 2, 2020, file photo, a policeman, foreground, accompanies a group of migrant laborers, who came to renew work permits, to a migration centre in St. Petersburg, Russia. A new U.N. report announced on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of international migrants by 2 million by the middle of 2020 because of border closings and a halt to travel worldwide — an estimated 27% decrease in expected growth. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)

FILE – In this April 2, 2020, file photo, a policeman, foreground, accompanies a group of migrant laborers, who came to renew work permits, to a migration centre in St. Petersburg, Russia. A new U.N. report announced on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of international migrants by 2 million by the middle of 2020 because of border closings and a halt to travel worldwide — an estimated 27% decrease in expected growth. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)

A new U.N. report estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of international migrants by 2 million by the middle of 2020 because of border closings and a halt to travel worldwide — an estimated 27% decrease in expected growth.

Clare Menozzi, principal author of the report by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division, told a news conference Friday that for the second half of 2020 “we have a sense that it will be probably comparable, if not more so.”

She said international migration had been projected to grow by 7 to 8 million between mid-2019 and mid-2020.

But the border closures and travel clampdown starting in March, as the pandemic circled the globe, meant zero growth for four months, and an estimated 2 million reduction in the expected number of international migrants, Menozzi said.

By August 2020, Population Division Director John Wilmoth noted, “there had been more than 80,000 travel restrictions imposed by 219 countries or territories across the world.”

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

10:13 am

Restaurants, bars scramble for propane amid pandemic winter

With coronavirus restrictions forcing bars and restaurants to seat customers outside in the dead of winter, many are scrambling to nab erratic supplies of propane that fuel space heaters they’re relying on more than ever to keep people comfortable in the cold.

It’s one of many new headaches — but a crucial one — that go with setting up tables and tents on sidewalks, streets and patios to comply with public health restrictions.

Whiskey tasting room manager Melinda Maddox moves a propane-fueled outdoor space heater in downtown Fort Collins, Colo., in preparation for opening on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Maddox and other bar and restaurant managers say they’ve sometimes struggled to find propane necessary for space heaters while they seat customers outside to comply with coronavirus public health restrictions. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

Whiskey tasting room manager Melinda Maddox moves a propane-fueled outdoor space heater in downtown Fort Collins, Colo., in preparation for opening on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Maddox and other bar and restaurant managers say they’ve sometimes struggled to find propane necessary for space heaters while they seat customers outside to comply with coronavirus public health restrictions. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

“You’re in the middle of service and having staff run up and say, ‘We’re out of propane!’” said Melinda Maddox, manager of a whiskey tasting room in Colorado.

Propane long has been a lifeline for people who live in places too remote to get natural gas piped to their homes for heat, hot water and cooking. This winter, 5-gallon (18-liter) propane tanks have proven a new necessity for urban businesses, too, especially in places like the Rocky Mountains, where the sun often takes the edge off the chill and people still enjoy gathering on patios when the heaters are roaring.

The standard-size tanks, which contain pressurized liquid propane that turns to gas as it’s released, are usually readily available from gas stations, grocery stores or home improvement stores. But that’s not always the case lately as high demand leads to sometimes erratic supplies.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

8:49 am

A worrying coronavirus mutation is discovered in Washington state — but hasn’t spread

Hong Xie, senior research scientist at the UW Virology Lab, prepares specimens for genome sequencing. The lab recently detected a worrying mutation in three COVID-19 cases. 
(Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Hong Xie, senior research scientist at the UW Virology Lab, prepares specimens for genome sequencing. The lab recently detected a worrying mutation in three COVID-19 cases.
(Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Three COVID-19 infections diagnosed in Washington in October were caused by virus with a mutation that might boost the respiratory bug’s ability to dodge immune defenses.

The mutation, called E484K, is also present in two of the worrisome new viral variants spreading around the globe — those that originated in South Africa and Brazil. But the virus detected in Washington did not have any of the other mutations that characterize those variants, said researchers at the UW Medicine Virology Lab.

No other infections with the mutation have been detected since October, though surveillance is limited in the state.

“Based on what we have right now, it hasn’t taken off,” said computational biologist Pavitra Roychoudhury, part of a team that sequenced the three genomes. “We definitely want to keep an eye on it.”

The mutation has been spotted sporadically in the U.S. since spring, said Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who has been tracking genetic changes in the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Those isolated sightings haven’t sparked major outbreaks. “It appears that just having the (E484K) mutation isn’t enough to make a huge difference to the virus,” he wrote in an email. However, in combination with the 10 or more other mutations in the South Africa and Brazil variants, it is spreading rapidly.

Read the full story.

—Sandi Doughton, The Seattle Times

8:42 am

Washington state House votes to extend Inslee’s COVID orders until end of state of emergency

The Washington State House of Representatives voted to extend Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 emergency orders, despite Republican objection to the length of the extension.

Similar to the Senate debate Tuesday, Republicans introduced amendments to shorten the length of time the emergency orders will stay in place, currently set to expire when the COVID state of emergency does. The amendments failed.

It will likely be the first of many debates this session regarding the governor’s emergency orders and COVID restrictions.

“I don’t believe the spirit of the law of the state that enables the proclamations of the state ever intended for these emergency powers to go on for a year,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen.

According to state law, governors’ emergency proclamations cannot be extended for longer than 30 days without approval from the Legislature. If the Legislature is not in session, House and Senate leadership can extend them. Through the past interim, leaders in all four caucuses have extended Inslee’s proclamations, but Republicans have long criticized Inslee for “overstepping” and implementing emergency orders that have shut down businesses and indoor dining without consulting the Legislature.

One proposed amendment would have changed the end date of the restrictions to 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 31. Republicans argued that because the Legislature is now in session, it is up to lawmakers to “be the voice of the people” and look at these proclamations on a periodic basis.

Read the full story.

—The Spokesman-Review

8:28 am

Sidelining experts, Brazil bungled its immunization plans

FILE – In this Dec. 23, 2020 file photo, a woman participates in a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the new coronavirus pandemic in Brazilia, Brazil. The country hasn’t approved a single vaccine yet, and independent health experts who participated in its immunization program say the plan is still incomplete, at best. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

FILE – In this Dec. 23, 2020 file photo, a woman participates in a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the new coronavirus pandemic in Brazilia, Brazil. The country hasn’t approved a single vaccine yet, and independent health experts who participated in its immunization program say the plan is still incomplete, at best. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

Like many Brazilian public health experts, Dr. Regina Flauzino spent most of 2020 watching with horror as COVID-19 devastated Brazil. When the opportunity to join the government’s vaccination effort came, she was thrilled: She would be able to share her decades of on-the-ground experience.

But her excitement quickly faded. Flauzino, an epidemiologist who worked on Brazilian vaccine campaigns for 20 years, became frustrated with what she described as a rushed, chaotic process.

The government has yet to approve a single vaccine, and Health Ministry officials have ignored outside experts’ advice. Shortly after the government presented its vaccination plan, more than a quarter of the roughly 140 experts involved demanded their names be excised.

“We weren’t listened to,” Flauzino told The Associated Press. The plan’s creation “was postponed for too long and now it’s being done in a rush.”

Brazil has suffered more than 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, the second-highest total in the world after the United States, with infections and deaths surging again. Despite a half-century of successful vaccination programs, the federal government is trailing regional and global peers in both approving vaccines and cobbling together an immunization strategy.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

8:00 am

Business groups press Washington state Legislature for tax cuts, other pandemic relief

After surviving 10 months of shutdowns, heavy layoffs, steep losses and chronic uncertainty, many businesses in Washington say they won’t see the end of the pandemic without significant help from state lawmakers.

Restaurants are among the business interests lobbying the Legislature this session for help coping with the pandemic. As restaurants dealt with restrictions by rethinking outdoor dining in November, San Fermo in Ballard added outdoor globes for diners. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Restaurants are among the business interests lobbying the Legislature this session for help coping with the pandemic. As restaurants dealt with restrictions by rethinking outdoor dining in November, San Fermo in Ballard added outdoor globes for diners. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

But one week into the 2021 legislative session, prospects for that relief are anything but clear.  

The good news: There’s strong bipartisan support in the Democrat-controlled state House and Senate for quick action on measures such as emergency grants for small business and more than $2.6 billion in cuts for unemployment taxes and other business costs.

Such relief could “make or break” small businesses struggling under COVID-19 restrictions, said Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Hospitality Association, one of many trade groups with high hopes for the 2021 session.

But the Legislature’s first week also brought warning signs for business, including talk of new taxes and push by labor for extra unemployment benefits. And on Wednesday, Senate Democrats voted down a business-backed Republican amendment that would have sped up Gov. Jay Inslee’s timeline for fully reopening businesses, such as restaurants and gyms, that are still operating at just partial capacity.

“I didn’t think we would be starting off the session like this, with no hope for those” businesses, said Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg, who sponsored the failed amendment. Wednesday’s vote, he added, “was a very tough blow for them.”

Read the full story.

—Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times

7:55 am

Prince William worried about strain on UK emergency workers

In this image provided by Kensington Palace shows a video call on Jan. 13, 2021 with Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, bottom of screen, and, top row from left, Carly Kennard and Jules Lockett, both of London Ambulance Service, Conal Devitt of Formby Primary Care Network and Manal Sadik, Associate Director for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and Widening Participation at Guys and St. Thomas Hospital. Center row from left, Phil Spencer from Cleveland Police, Tony Collins, Just ‘B’ volunteer helpline call handler and CEO of North Yorkshire Hospice Care, and Caroline Francis, Just ‘B’ helpline support worker and nurse at North Yorkshire Hospice Care. The royal pair spoke with frontline workers and counsellors about the mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis for those working on the frontline, and why it is vital that they are able to reach out for support at such a critical time. (Kensington Palace via AP)

In this image provided by Kensington Palace shows a video call on Jan. 13, 2021 with Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, bottom of screen, and, top row from left, Carly Kennard and Jules Lockett, both of London Ambulance Service, Conal Devitt of Formby Primary Care Network and Manal Sadik, Associate Director for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and Widening Participation at Guys and St. Thomas Hospital. Center row from left, Phil Spencer from Cleveland Police, Tony Collins, Just ‘B’ volunteer helpline call handler and CEO of North Yorkshire Hospice Care, and Caroline Francis, Just ‘B’ helpline support worker and nurse at North Yorkshire Hospice Care. The royal pair spoke with frontline workers and counsellors about the mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis for those working on the frontline, and why it is vital that they are able to reach out for support at such a critical time. (Kensington Palace via AP)

Prince William says he is concerned about the mental health of U.K. ambulance drivers, police officers and other first responders who are being exposed to extraordinary levels of trauma and death as coronavirus cases soar.

William, a former search and rescue helicopter pilot, told emergency workers on a video call that they must not be afraid to ask for help despite their inclination to help others first.

“I fear…you’re all so busy caring for everyone else that you won’t take enough time to care for yourselves, and we won’t see the impact for quite some time,’’ William, the second in line to the British throne, said on a tape released late Friday.

Britain’s health care system is staggering as a more contagious variant of the coronavirus coupled with cold, wet winter weather puts unprecedented strain on hospitals and emergency workers.

The London Ambulance Service says it is receiving about 8,000 emergency calls a day, compared with 5,500 on a typical busy day. But the strain is being felt across all emergency services. Hundreds of firefighters, for example, have volunteered to drive ambulances to ease pressure on beleaguered services.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

7:45 am

Even at health care facilities, employers and workers are at odds about coronavirus vaccines

Nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Bathgate Post Office vaccination facility on Sunday in the Bronx, New York.  (Kevin Hagen / The Associated Press)

Nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Bathgate Post Office vaccination facility on Sunday in the Bronx, New York. (Kevin Hagen / The Associated Press)

Anxious about taking a new vaccine and scarred by a history of being mistreated, many front-line workers at hospitals and nursing homes are balking at getting inoculated against the coronavirus.

Anxious about their patients’ health and scarred by many thousands of deaths in the past year, hospitals and nursing homes are desperate to have their employees vaccinated.

Those opposing forces have spawned an unusual situation: In addition to educating their workers about the benefits of the coronavirus vaccines, a growing number of employers are dangling incentives like cash, extra time off and even Waffle House gift cards for those who get inoculated, while in at least a few cases saying they will fire those who refuse.

Officials at two large long-term care chains, Juniper Communities and Atria Senior Living, said they were requiring their workers, with limited exceptions, to take the vaccine if they wanted to keep their jobs.

“For us, this was not a tough decision,” said Lynne Katzmann, Juniper’s chief executive. “Our goal is to do everything possible to protect our residents and our team members and their families.”

Critics say it is unethical to strong-arm low-paid workers into taking the vaccines, especially when there hasn’t been enough time to gather long-term safety data.

Read the full story.

—The New York Times


Seattle Times staff & news services