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Coronavirus daily news updates, December 6: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, December 6, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus was found in three Washington counties over the weekend. Health officials described the discovery of the new variant as inevitable, as omicron has now been found in about a third of U.S. states.

While it has been dubbed a “variant of concern,” there is still much unknown about the new variant, including how quickly it spreads, whether it causes more or less severe disease than previous variants and how effective current vaccines are against it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on Sunday that early signs indicate it could be less dangerous than the delta variant, but stressed the need for more information.

“We strongly urge people to get vaccinated and get their boosters as soon as possible to maximize their level of protection from any variant,” Dr. Umair Shah, the state health secretary said Saturday. Vaccines are free and health insurance is not required.

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.

Thailand reports ‘likely’ case of omicron

A Thai health official said Monday that the country’s first suspected case of the new omicron variant had been detected but authorities would withhold confirmation ahead of further test results.

Head of the Department of Medical Sciences, Supakit Sirilak, said at a daily press briefing that the “likely” case of the omicron variant had been identified in an American businessman who entered Thailand from Spain.

“The analysis result confirms a 99.92% chance of it being the omicron variant. The ministry and private laboratories are now running parallel tests and we will know the result today. Initially, it is likely to be the first omicron case of Thailand,” Supakit said at the briefing.

The U.S. national tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 1 after arriving in Thailand.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Spain: PM urges Christmas caution as hospital staff infected

FILE – Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivers a speech at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Nov. 12, 2021. Spain’s prime minister is urging people to “remain prudent” about COVID-19 over the holidays as Christmas festivities at one Spanish hospital are suspected of infecting dozens of staff. Sanchez said Monday, Dec. 6 that Spaniards can’t “let their guard down” because the coronavirus continues to spread.  (Julien de Rosa, Pool Photo via AP, file)

Spain’s prime minister on Monday urged people to “remain prudent” about COVID-19 over the holidays, as Christmas festivities at one Spanish hospital are suspected of infecting dozens of staff.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told reporters that Spaniards can’t “let their guard down” because the coronavirus continues to spread, despite fewer cases and fewer difficulties for the health service than this time last year.

The regional hospital of Malaga, a city on Spain’s southern coast, said 170 staff attended a Christmas dinner in a restaurant last weekend. Since then, 68 staff, including intensive care nurses and doctors, have tested positive for COVID-19.

The staff took antigen tests before the event and were negative, which is making authorities question whether the dinner gathering was the cause of the outbreak, Spanish private news agency Europa Press reported.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Cruise ship with COVID-19 infections sets sail with new passengers

FILE – People pause to look at Norwegian Cruise Line’s ship, Norwegian Breakaway, on the Hudson River, in New York, on May 8, 2013. A cruise ship that carried at least 17 passengers and crew members with COVID-19 breakthrough infections has left New Orleans with new passengers. The Louisiana Department of Health said Monday, Dec. 6, 2021 that nine crew members and eight passengers were infected when the Norwegian Breakaway docked in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

A cruise ship that carried at least 17 passengers and crew members with breakthrough COVID-19 infections when it docked in New Orleans has set sail again with new passengers.

Nine crew members and eight passengers were infected when the Norwegian Breakaway arrived on Sunday, a Louisiana Department of Health spokeswoman said Monday.

None had any symptoms and only fully vaccinated people are allowed on board, Norwegian Cruise Line said.

The cruise line said all passengers who boarded the Norwegian Breakaway on Sunday were offered a chance to cancel without penalty. The company did not immediately respond to questions about whether any did cancel or how many passengers the ship now carries.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Omicron v. delta: Close watch on which coronavirus mutant will dominate

A woman is vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Hillbrow Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday Dec. 6, 2021. South African doctors say the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases attributed to the new omicron variant is resulting in mostly mild symptoms. (AP Photo/ Shiraaz Mohamed)

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta displace it?

Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor.

“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School. “Certainly, it’s potentially alarming.”

But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.

Read the full story here.

— Andrew Meldrum and Laura Ungar, The Associated Press

Amid COVID, nurses are leaving staff jobs — and tripling their salaries as travelers

Alex Stow, 25, a  registered nurse who works as a critical-care traveling nurse, after finishing a 12.5-hour shift at a hospital in Traverse City, Mich., on Dec. 2. The much-higher pay of traveling nurse gigs is tempting hospital nurses to leave.  But nurses’ unions say there would be no shortage of workers if nurses were adequately paid and afforded better working conditions. (Photo for The Washington Post by Elaine Cromie)

Wanderlust, and the money to fund it, made Alex Stow’s decision easy. After working a couple of years in an intensive care unit, he signed up to be a travel nurse, tripling his pay to about $95 an hour by agreeing to help short-staffed hospitals around the country for 13 weeks at a time.

Now Stow, 25, is buying a truck and a camper and preparing to hit the road. He’ll work where he wants and take time off to see the country between nursing assignments.

“As soon as I found out that was a thing, I thought, ‘That’s got my name written all over it,’ ” said Stow, who agreed to discuss his new work life if the hospitals were not named.

If 2020 was the year travel nursing took off, with 35 percent growth over the pre-pandemic year of 2019, this year has propelled it to new heights, with an additional 40 percent growth expected, according to an independent analyst of the health-care workforce.

The continued pandemic; an aging, burned out and retiring nurse workforce; the return of hospital services that were shut down last year; and a shortage of foreign recruits and nursing students have combined to make travel nursing one of the most critical and sensitive issues in health care

“Of all the things that keep CEOs of hospitals up at night, this is the key one,” said Chip Kahn, president and chief executive officer of the Federation of American Hospitals, which represents about 1,000 for-profit facilities.

Hospitals accuse the travel companies of price gouging. The companies say they are responding to the laws of supply and demand in an increasingly mobile work environment. Nurses’ unions say there would be no shortage if nurses were adequately paid and afforded better working conditions.

Read the story here.

—Lenny Bernstein, The Washington Post

State health officials confirm 254 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 254 new coronavirus cases and 23 new deaths on Monday.

The update brings the state’s totals to 784,129 cases and 9,436 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday. DOH said that Monday’s data on cases, deaths and hospitalizations is incomplete due to a technical issue.

In addition, 43,321 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 133 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 175,031 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,091 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 11,023,256 doses and 61.9% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 24,255 vaccine shots per day.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard’s epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state’s COVID-19 spread.

—Amanda Zhou

Scientists slam German tabloid’s pandemic coverage

A group representing Germany’s main scientific organizations has accused the country’s biggest-selling newspaper of contributing to public hostility against scientists during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement Monday, the Alliance of Scientific Organization criticized a recent report by the Bild tabloid for singling out three researchers who had called for tougher restrictions to reduce COVID-19 infections in Germany.

The paper published pictures of the three scientists Saturday with the headline “Trio of experts give us frustration for the holidays.” It came days after German federal and state officials agreed to tighten existing restrictions, particularly for unvaccinated people, amid a surge of new cases.

The alliance said making it seem like the three researchers personally were responsible for unpopular measures could “easily contribute to a climate of opinion that has elsewhere already led to scientists being subjected to or threatened with physical or psychological violence.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

EU drug agency recommends approving COVID-19 treatment

The European Union’s drugs agency on Monday recommended approving the use of an anti-inflammatory medicine to treat adults hospitalized with severe COVID-19.

The European Medicines Agency decision, which has to be confirmed by the E.U.’s executive commission, extends the use of the drug RoActemra, made by Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Roche, that is currently used to treat forms of arthritis.

The Amsterdam-based EMA said it can now be used on adult COVID-19 patients who are being treated with corticosteroids and require supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation. The drug, given through an IV, tamps down a protein called interleukin-6 that’s often found in excess in COVID-19 patients.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

How to find the right coronavirus test for new U.S. travel rules

The United States on Monday began requiring all inbound international travelers to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within a day of their flight to enter the country. The requirement is mandatory for anyone at least 2 years old, even American citizens and legal residents, regardless of vaccination status.

Previously, anyone flying into the United States needed to test ahead of their trip, but their vaccination status determined their testing timeline. Vaccinated travelers had three days to get tested, while unvaccinated travelers had just one.

Other countries have also implemented new testing strategies to combat omicron. Starting Tuesday, the United Kingdom will require international travelers to show proof of a negative test within 48 hours of their inbound flights (in addition to testing again within two days of arrival and self-quarantining until results are processed).

The updated testing requirements – along with the extension of federal mask mandates and expansion of voluntary testing opportunities for new arrivals at some U.S. airports – aim to slow the spread of the emerging omicron variant.

What kinds of tests are accepted? Where can I find them abroad?

Read the story here.

—Natalie B. Compton, The Washington Post

High school seniors return to classrooms in Vietnam capital

High school seniors returned to their classrooms in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, on Monday for the first time in more than six months as the city eases coronavirus restrictions.

Only 50% of normal school attendance will be allowed to reduce the risk of infections, so students will spend alternate days attending classes in person and online, an announcement by the capital city authority said.

“I’m very happy and excited to go back to school after such a long time. This is my last year at school and I cherish the time spent with my teachers and my friends at school, rather than through the computer screen at home,” said Han Binh Huy, a 12th grader at Tran Nhan Tong high school.

Only seniors were allowed to return because they are preparing for a critical national exam in June which determines whether they can enter universities.

Read the story here.

—Hau Dinh, The Associated Press

So far, Washington workers pushed out over vaccine mandates aren’t losing jobless benefits

Boeing workers protest against the jet-maker’s vaccine requirement in Everett in October. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

In August, when Gov. Jay Inslee ordered state employees, health care workers and others to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18, officials issued a stern warning: If you quit or get fired for refusing a jab, don’t expect unemployment benefits. 

But nearly two months after the vaccination deadline, it’s unclear just how much vaccine-hesitant workers have to worry about. 

Although thousands of workers in Washington likely have quit or been fired over government and private vaccine mandates — including nearly 2,000 state employees as of Nov. 15, according to state data — just 26 mandate-related claims for jobless benefits had been flagged for review by the state Employment Security Department as of Friday. Although the review process isn’t complete, ESD officials don’t believe that any of those claims have been denied.

The number of flagged claims is expected to rise in coming weeks as the ESD’s backlogged review process catches up with mandate-related claims, said ESD spokesperson Nick Demerice. And, he added, “there will be many circumstances where if you leave your employer based on this requirement, you will not qualify for benefits.”

Some legal experts aren’t so sure. They think ESD ultimately may deny benefits only to a relatively small number of workers who quit or are fired over the mandate — in part due to broader uncertainty around rules granting religious and medical exemptions for the vaccine-hesitant.

Read the story here.

—Paul Roberts

Resurgence in business travel expected as companies tire of Zoom, but omicron variant complicates outlook

Many road warriors’ suitcases and passports have been gathering dust since the COVID-19 pandemic brought business travel to a halt.

Corporate travel has been especially hard-hit during the pandemic, as people are quicker to plan vacations than business trips, especially as employers delay reopening offices amid a new wave of infections this fall.

The emergence of a new highly transmissible variant, omicron, has added uncertainty about the timing for a broader return to business travel. Just last week, the U.S. imposed new restrictions on travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region.

Travel companies say they’re confident road warriors will eventually return, but that doesn’t mean every company’s workers will hit the road as often as they used to. While some companies say they’re eager to get back to their globe-trotting ways, others realized they didn’t need to be on the go as much while stuck at home during pandemic lockdowns.

“It’s not just automatically jumping on a plane for an hourlong meeting, it’s proactively working with clients to say, ‘How can we best use our time together?’” said Stephanie Nerlich, CEO of Havas Creative Network for North America.

Read the story here.

—Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune

Nigeria slams UK’s ‘discriminatory’ travel ban over omicron

A woman receives a coronavirus vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria on Monday. A pandemic-weary world faces weeks of confusing uncertainty as countries restrict travel and take other steps to halt the newest potentially risky coronavirus mutant before anyone knows just how dangerous omicron really is. (Gbemiga Olamikan / AP, file)

 A Nigerian official on Monday criticized a travel ban imposed on the West African nation by the British government amid fears about the new omicron coronavirus variant as “punitive, indefensible and discriminatory.”

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Saturday added Nigeria to the U.K.’s travel “red list,” which means that arrivals from there will be banned except for U.K. and Irish residents. He said there was a “significant number” of omicron cases linked to travel with Nigeria, with 27 cases recorded in England.

But Nigerian authorities say they have not reported any new omicron cases in the country since announcing on Dec. 1 that they had detected three cases in travelers who arrived from South Africa.

Read the story here.

—Chinedu Asadu, The Associated Press

Scientist behind UK vaccine says next pandemic may be worse

One of the scientists behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is warning that the next pandemic may be more contagious and more lethal unless more money is devoted to research and preparations to fight emerging viral threats.

In excerpts released before a speech Monday, Professor Sarah Gilbert says the scientific advances made in fighting deadly viruses “must not be lost” because of the cost of fighting the current pandemic.

“This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods,’’ Gilbert is expected to say. “The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”

Read the story here.

—Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

Unvaccinated Italians face new restrictions as holidays near

 Italy is making life more uncomfortable for unvaccinated people this holiday season, excluding them from indoor restaurants, theaters and museums starting Monday to reduce the spread of coronavirus and encourage vaccine skeptics to get their shots.

Italian police have been empowered to check whether diners in restaurants or bars have a “super” green health pass certifying that they are either vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus. Smart phone applications that verify people’s health pass status have been updated to prevent entry to concerts, movies or performances to those who have merely tested negative in recent days.

In the capital, Rome, dozens of police were out at transportation hubs checking both green passes and personal identification, finding a cooperative mood among commuters. Still, a 50-year-old Roman became the first to receive a 400-euro ($450) fine after getting off the bus at the northern Flaminio station without the “basic” health pass, said Stefano Napoli, deputy chief of Rome’s municipal police force.

Read the story here.

—Colleen Barry, The Associated Press

Cruise ship with at least 17 coronavirus cases aboard docks in New Orleans

FILE – People pause to look at Norwegian Cruise Line’s ship, Norwegian Breakaway, on the Hudson River, in New York, on May 8, 2013. Ten people aboard the cruise ship, approaching New Orleans, have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Saturday night, Dec. 4, 2021. The Norwegian Breakaway had departed New Orleans on Nov. 28 and is due to return this weekend, the Louisiana Department of Health said in a news release. Over the past week, the ship made stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

A Norwegian Cruise Line ship docked in New Orleans over the weekend with at least 17 passengers and crew members infected with the coronavirus, according to local health officials, including one probable case of the omicron variant among the crew.

The Norwegian Breakaway departed from New Orleans on Nov. 28 with more than 3,200 people aboard and stopped in Belize, Honduras and Mexico on its voyage, the Louisiana Department of Health said in a statement Saturday.

The cruise company said that it requires all passengers and crew members to have been vaccinated before departure, and that the cases represent only a “handful” of the thousands of people on the ship. It described their infections as “asymptomatic.”

Even so, the outbreak highlights that despite cruise lines’ efforts to impose strict public health rules, the virus is still finding a way on board. And public health rules that dictate how cruise ships can operate in U.S. waters during the pandemic are due to become only recommendations in mid-January.

Read the story here.

—Rachel Pannett, The Washington Post

The pandemic has your blood pressure rising? You’re not alone.

Last year was a tough one. Americans grappled with a global pandemic, the loss of loved ones, lockdowns that splintered social networks, stress, unemployment and depression.

It is probably no surprise that the nation’s blood pressure shot up.

On Monday, scientists reported that blood pressure measurements of nearly a half-million adults showed a significant rise last year, compared with the previous year.

These measurements describe the pressure of blood against the walls of the arteries. Over time, increased pressure can damage the heart, the brain, blood vessels, kidneys and eyes. Sexual function can also be affected.

“These are very important data that are not surprising, but are shocking,” said Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association, who was not involved in the study.

Read the story here.

—Roni Caryn Rabin, The New York Times

NYC to impose vaccine mandate on private sector employers

New York City employers will have to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers under new rules announced Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The vaccine mandate for private businesses will take effect Dec. 27 and is aimed at preventing a spike in COVID-19 infections during the holiday season and the colder months, the Democratic mayor said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of COVID and the dangers it’s causing to all of us,” de Blasio said. “All private-sector employers in New York City will be covered by this vaccine mandate as of Dec. 27.”

Vaccinations are already required for hospital and nursing home workers and city employees including teachers, police officers and firefighters. A vaccination mandate for employees of private and religious schools was announced last week.

The city was moving to impose the mandate on private sector businesses even as federal courts have temporarily blocked an attempt by President Joe Biden to do the same nationally for larger companies.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pandemic stress weighs heavily on Gen Z: AP-NORC, MTV poll

Isolation. Anxiety. Uncertainty. The stresses of the coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll on Americans of all ages, but a new poll finds that teens and young adults have faced some of the heaviest struggles as they come of age during a time of extreme turmoil.

Overall, more than a third of Americans ages 13 to 56 cite the pandemic as a major source of stress, and many say it has made certain parts of their lives harder. But when it comes to education, friendships and dating, the disruption has had a pronounced impact among Generation Z, according to a new survey from MTV Entertainment Group and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Roughly half of Americans across generations, including Gen Z, said the pandemic led to struggles having fun and maintaining mental health

The outsized impact on children and adolescents is partly linked to where they are in their brain development, said Dr. Cora Breuner, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Those periods are when humans see the most growth in executive function — the complex mental skills needed to navigate daily life.

Read the story here.

—Collin Binkley and Hannah Fingerhut, The Associated Press