Live: Coronavirus daily news updates, January 11: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

Moderna’s CEO said the pharmaceutical company is working on a booster shot to specifically target omicron, which could be ready by fall. The company has signed advanced purchase agreements worth $18.5 billion with South Korea, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials are advising people against traveling to Canada, due to “very high” levels of coronavirus. The CDC is also urging unvaccinated people to avoid traveling to 54 other countries including Mexico, which was a top travel destination for U.S. citizens last year.

Health authorities around the U.S. are increasingly allowing nurses and other workers infected with coronavirus to continue working if they’re experiencing mild symptoms or are asymptomatic due to staffing shortages and “crushing caseloads” driven by the variant.

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.

United Airlines CEO says 3,000 of its workers have contracted COVID

United Airlines is reducing its near-term flight schedule as the airline grapples with the staffing impact of the rapidly spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“In one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick,” United Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby wrote Tuesday in a memo to workers. “To those who are out sick or isolating, we wish you a speedy recovery.”

About 3,000 of its workers are currently positive for COVID-19, the CEO said. United is among multiple U.S. carriers whacked by a recent surge in omicron infections nationwide, which resulted in tens of thousands of flight cancellations across the industry during the holiday travel period.

Read the story here.

—Justin Bachman, Bloomberg

28,000 canceled flights later, airlines still looking for upper hand against omicron, weather

Laura Leonard was thrilled to get time off work to visit her mother in Connecticut over the holidays.

The trip was supposed to be quick, just four days during New Year’s weekend, but after months on the front lines of the pandemic as a case worker at a Chicago-area hospital, she was eager for a break. Then, 90 minutes before her scheduled Jan. 3 departure back home, Southwest Airlines canceled the flight.

It cost nearly $500 to get back to Chicago – two days later and on another airline. During the mad scramble to return home, she considered renting a car and driving 900 miles. The $680 price tag was just too much.

Like thousands of passengers who planned holiday trips, Leonard became caught in an epic travel meltdown in its third week that has forced the cancellation of more than 28,000 flights since the first signs of trouble on Christmas Eve, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. What began as a pandemic-related challenge quickly snowballed into a multitiered test – coupling the uncertainties of omicron with the more familiar headache of winter weather.

“I just wanted my time off. I wanted to enjoy it,” Leonard said. “But this is – it’s upsetting and I don’t know. I’ve never gone through anything like this and I am just so bummed.”

The disruption for airlines and travelers is on track to become the most severe since more than 56,000 flights were canceled in a single week at the outset of the pandemic, when people didn’t want to fly. A triple whammy of robust demand for holiday travel, staffing shortages triggered by a surge in coronavirus cases and bouts of wintry weather at airline hubs has ushered in one of the worst periods for air travelers in years.

Read the story here.

—Lori Aratani and Ian Duncan, The Washington Post

DeSantis: Freedom is good, COVID mandates, lockdowns are bad

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made it clear in his State of the State speech Tuesday that he likes teachers, first responders and freedom and he doesn’t like Dr. Anthony Fauci, critical race theory, abortion, illegal immigration and Burmese pythons.

DeSantis opened his major address with a subject he has hammered over and over again during the coronavirus pandemic: Florida won’t be a lockdown state and mandates that other states imposed to fight COVID-19 don’t work.

“Florida has become the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions,” DeSantis said. “These unprecedented policies have been as ineffective as they have been destructive. They are grounded more in blind adherence to Faucian declarations than they are in the constitutional traditions.”

DeSantis, who is up for reelection in November and is eyeing a possible 2024 presidential run, laid out a conservative agenda for 2022. He said that would include keeping undocumented immigrants out of Florida, creating a law enforcement office solely dedicated to protecting the unborn, fighting election fraud and stopping schools from teaching critical race theory.

Read the story here.

—Brendan Farrington, The Associated Press

Quebec to force unvaccinated to pay financial penalty

The premier of the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec announced Tuesday that adult residents who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will be charged a financial penalty.

Premier Francois Legault said not getting vaccinated leads to consequences for the health care system and not all Quebecers should pay for that.

He said the levy will only apply to people who do not qualify for medical exemptions. It is the first time a government in Canada has announced a financial penalty for people who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Legault said the amount of the penalty hasn’t been decided,but will be “significant.” More details are tol be released at a later date.

He said about 10% of adults in Quebec are unvaccinated, but they represent about 50% of intensive care patients.

Read the story here.

Here’s how often you can reuse KN95 or N95 masks — and how to safely do it

Health experts have recommended switching to N95 or KN95 face masks as the omicron coronavirus variant — which transmits and evades COVID-19 vaccines more easily than past strains — spreads throughout the United States.

But can these higher-quality masks be used more than once?

Some experts say yes — with limitations.

N95 and KN95 respirators are designed for a single use, so reusing them is not ideal. But some experts say that members of the general public should be able to get away with wearing them a few times before they need to be thrown out, if they take certain steps.

Experts say that rotating masks and storing them in a paper bag for 24-48 hours between uses is one to way to reuse them.

Read the story here.

—Bailey Aldridge, McClatchy Washington Bureau

Federal agencies must test unvaccinated workers weekly starting in February, Biden administration says

Federal agencies must start testing unvaccinated employees at least weekly for the coronavirus by Feb. 15, the Biden administration said in new guidance issued Tuesday.

The testing, which mainly affects those exempted from President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal workers, would be required during any week in which those employees “work onsite or interact in person with members of the public as part of their job duties,” the guidance says.

Agencies are also free to require more frequent testing for certain occupations or work settings, the administration says.

More than 90% of 3.5 million federal employees and uniformed armed forces personnel have complied with Biden’s executive order issued in September requiring coronavirus vaccines, but Tuesday’s guidance offers more clear rules for those who have applied for or received exemptions.

Read the story here.

—Eric Yoder, The Washington Post

Outbreaks, bottlenecks expected to slow global growth in ’22

The World Bank is downgrading its outlook for the global economy, blaming continuing outbreaks of COVID-19, a reduction in government economic support and ongoing bottlenecks in global supply chains.

The 189-country, anti-poverty agency forecasts worldwide economic growth of 4.1% this year, down from the 4.3% growth it was forecasting last June. It’s also down from the 5.5% expansion it estimates the global economy tallied in 2021.

In its Global Economic Prospects report out Tuesday, the World Bank projects that the U.S. economy will grow 3.7% this year, down from 5.6% in 2021. It expects China, the world’s second-biggest economy, to see growth decelerate to 5.1% in 2022 from 8% last year.

The arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020 slammed global economic output. The world economy shrank by 3.4% in 2020. Massive relief provided by governments and super-low interest rates engineered by central banks — and eventually the rollout of vaccines — triggered an unexpectedly strong recovery last year.

Read the story here.

—Paul Wiseman, The Associated Press

Oregon hospitalizations slide up, cases surge amid omicron

Oregon health authorities reported Monday that 18,538 new confirmed or presumptive COVID-19 cases were identified over the weekend.

The state has a positive test rate of just over 22% as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 692, but hospitalizations were still about 40% below their peak during the summer surge of the delta variant.

Health officials diagnosed 47,272 coronavirus cases over the past week, three times as many as the previous week.

Eighteen new deaths were announced Monday.

—The Associated Press

Seattle schools could return to remote learning if high number of absences continues

While awaiting her COVID-19 test results, Seattle Schools teacher Caitlin Honig spent eight hours over the weekend reworking lesson plans for absent students who either tested positive for COVID, were exposed and have to quarantine, or feel unsafe at school right now. 

Since last week, after winter break ended, Honig says about a third of her students have been absent every day. That means she must adapt her current lesson plans and class projects for her students to do at home and independently. 

“What’s going on right now is not working and it’s not sustainable,” the social studies and language arts teacher at Franklin High School said. “I’m not able to do my job equitably because there’s such a large number of students absent and I can’t be doing two types of teaching at the same time.”

One week after the end of winter break, educators said they were growing worried about their ability to teach school safely as COVID cases soared among students and teachers.

Classes were canceled Monday and Tuesday at Seattle’s Franklin High School and Kimball Elementary School because of staffing shortages. Seattle Public Schools leaders are also weighing whether to bring back remote instruction temporarily. 

Read the story here.

—Monica Velez

China locks down 3rd city, raising affected to 20 million

A third Chinese city has locked down its residents because of a COVID-19 outbreak, raising the number confined to their homes in China to about 20 million people.

The lockdown of Anyang, home to 5.5 million people, was announced late Monday after two cases of the omicron variant were reported. Residents are not allowed to go out and stores have been ordered shut except those selling necessities.

Another 13 million people have been locked down in Xi’an for nearly three weeks, and 1.1 million more in Yuzhou for more than a week. It wasn’t clear how long the lockdown of Anyang would last, as it was announced as a measure to facilitate mass testing of residents, which is standard procedure in China’s strategy of identifying and isolating infected people as quickly as possible.

The lockdowns are the broadest since the shutting down of Wuhan and most of the rest of Hubei province in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Since then, China’s approach has evolved into one of targeting smaller areas hit by outbreaks for lockdowns.

The approach of the Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 4 in Beijing, and the emergence of omicron have brought back citywide lockdowns in a bid to snuff out outbreaks and prevent them from spreading to other parts of China.

Read the story here.

—Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press

Staffing shortages close 4 Seattle and Eastside schools Tuesday

Three Lake Washington School District high schools and one Seattle Public Schools elementary school have closed or temporarily moved to remote classes because of staffing shortages.

Lake Washington, Redmond and Juanita high schools transitioned on Monday to remote classes due to staff shortages, the school district said.

The shortages are the result of COVID-related quarantines, general illnesses, and other absences, the district said on its website.

Staffing shortages also contributed to the closure on Monday and Tuesday of Seattle Public Schools’ Kimball Elementary on Beacon Avenue South.

The school said administrators are working with district officials to determine when the school can reopen. An update whether Kimball will be open on Wednesday will be provided as soon as possible on the school’s website.

—Seattle Times staff

WHO: 7 million new omicron COVID cases in Europe last week

There were more than 7 million new cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 across Europe in the first week of January, more than doubling in just two weeks, the World Health Organization said.

WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge said at a media briefing on Tuesday that 26 countries in its region reported that more than 1% of their populations are being infected with COVID-19 each week, warning there is now a “closing window of opportunity” for countries to prevent their health systems from being overwhelmed.

He cited estimates from the Institute of Health Metrics at the University of Washington that projected half of the population in Western Europe will be infected with COVID-19 in the next six to eight weeks.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Japan keeps border controls as it prepares for omicron surge

Japan will keep its borders closed to most foreign citizens through February as it attempts to accelerate coronavirus booster shots for elderly people and expand hospital capacity to cope with the rapidly spreading omicron variant, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday.

Japan briefly eased border controls in November after COVID-19 cases rapidly declined, but quickly reinstated a ban on most foreign entrants after the highly transmissible new variant emerged.

Kishida said the stringent border controls have helped slow the variant’s spread and “bought time” to prepare for an imminent surge.

Japan had few cases until late December, but infections have since shot up to thousands a day.

Last week, Kishida placed three prefectures where infections apparently spread from U.S. military bases — Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima — under a pre-emergency status in which eateries were requested to shorten service hours.

Read the story here.

—Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

U.S. poised to break record 142,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations

The United States is poised to surpass its record for COVID-19 hospitalizations as soon as Tuesday, with no end in sight to skyrocketing case loads, falling staff levels and the struggles of a medical system trying to provide care amid an unprecedented surge of the coronavirus.

Monday’s total of 141,385 people in U.S. hospitals with COVID-19 fell just short of the record of 142,273 set on Jan. 14, 2021, during the previous peak of the pandemic in this country.

But the highly transmissible omicron variant threatens to obliterate that benchmark. If models of omicron’s spread prove accurate – even the researchers who produce them admit forecasts are difficult during a pandemic – current numbers may seem small in just a few weeks. Disease modelers are predicting total hospitalizations in the 275,000 to 300,000 range when the peak is reached, probably later this month.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Catch up on the past 24 hours

All private health insurers will cover home COVID-19 tests under a new U.S. policy announced yesterday. Here’s how that will work, along with a guide to the different kinds of tests and when you should use them.

Seattle schools may return to remote learning, the district is warning. Classes were canceled at two schools yesterday because of staff shortages. Lake Washington High School in Kirkland has already shifted back to remote learning.

The CDC is expected to recommend better masks against the omicron variant. One official offered a preview of the new guidance.

Five Washington state senators have tested positive as the Legislature begins its session. Lawmakers’ to-do list is long, but for many of them right now, the focus is on getting in the door.

Don’t go to Canada, Mexico or 53 other nations, the CDC is advising as coronavirus cases rise sharply. Travelers, you can check your destination on a map.

A mother has been charged with a felony after police say she drove to a coronavirus test site with her sick son in the trunk.

—Kris Higginson

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