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No quarantine needed for those who have received both shots of coronavirus vaccine, CDC says

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/10/2021 Derek Hawkins, Paulina Villegas

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that people who have been vaccinated are no longer required to quarantine after exposure to someone with the coronavirus, as long as they have received both doses of the vaccine and at least two weeks have passed since the second shot.

CDC officials also recommended double masking — a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask — to improve protection from the threat of more contagious variants spreading across the United States.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The first known cases of the variant discovered in South Africa have been detected in California, one in Santa Clara Country and one in Alameda County, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Wednesday.
  • Two-thirds of Americans are dissatisfied with how the coronavirus vaccine rollout is being handled, including 21 percent who are “very dissatisfied,” according to a Gallup poll. Yet nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population has so far received at least a first dose of the two-part coronavirus vaccines, CDC data shows.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a “medical breakthrough” to prevent infection and ensure good health, made of an extract of the herb thyme, as the country lags far behind in vaccine sourcing.
  • All of the coronavirus particles in the world would fit inside a single can of a soft drink, the British mathematician Christian Yates has estimated.
  • The Biden administration said Wednesday that it was partnering with officials in Texas to set up three new mass vaccination sites in the state, part of an effort to leverage federal resources to expand the delivery of coronavirus vaccines.
  • The Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency-use authorization for a combination monoclonal antibody treatment, citing data showing that it reduces hospitalization and death among certain covid-19 patients.

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10:47 PM: Federal workers could get more paid leave if virus prevents them from working

Federal employees who exhaust their sick leave for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic could receive additional paid leave if those problems continue to prevent them from working, under a bill to be considered in a House committee on Friday.

Employees who meet certain eligibility criteria could receive as much as 600 hours — 15 workweeks — of extra leave time to be paid from a $570 million fund that the bill would create. The fund would apply to all agencies, including the semi-corporate U.S. Postal Service, and would operate through Sept. 30.

Under the proposal, federal employees would have to use up their regular sick leave before drawing from the fund. Full-time workers accrue 13 sick leave days per year with no limit on carrying unused leave year to year. Part-time workers get proportionate amounts of sick leave and would be eligible for a proportionate additional amount from the fund.

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By: Eric Yoder

9:16 PM: Denmark says it has British variant under control, for now

Denmark was among the first countries to sound the alarm about the difficulty of controlling the spread of the more transmissible variant of the novel coronavirus first identified in Britain. But new data suggests the country may have curbed this more contagious mutation, at least temporarily.

An estimate released by Danish authorities said that as of Feb. 1, officials thought every person infected with the British variant, called B.1.1.7, was passing it along to 0.99 other people. That would be a significant drop from previous estimates that suggested the strain was spreading among Danes at a rapid pace despite an extensive national lockdown.

The new estimate means Danish authorities think the prevalence of the strain has remained constant in early February, neither shrinking nor growing in the community.

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By: Michael Birnbaum

7:53 PM: Chicago reaches deal with teachers to reopen school buildings

Teachers in Chicago, home to the nation’s third-largest school district, are set to return to classrooms this week after reaching a deal with the city on health and safety standards, capping months of tense negotiations that raised the specter of a strike during a school year that has been disrupted repeatedly.

Chicago Teachers Union officials accepted the agreement begrudgingly after concluding that they would be unlikely to gain additional concessions from the city. Nearly 70 percent of members who cast ballots endorsed accepting the agreement, less than a day after union brass had passed a vote of no confidence in Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

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By: Moriah Balingit

6:31 PM: Maduro touts miracle cure to mask massive problem: Venezuela can’t (or won’t) get vaccines

CARACAS, Venezuela — The president announced the “medical breakthrough” with a pitch that could school a QVC presenter.

Neutralize the coronavirus without a single side effect! No needle? No problem! Just a few drops of the magic liquid under the tongue every four hours, and it’s goodbye lockdown, hello good health.

“From Venezuela to the world,” Nicolás Maduro declared in a national address, unveiling two shimmering vials of Carvativir.

Venezuelan medical professionals now say that Maduro’s “miracle drops” — which he pledged would rapidly go into mass production — are actually an extract of the herb thyme, used in homeopathic therapies and ordinary cooking.

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5:17 PM: How a sluggish vaccination program could delay a return to normal and invite vaccine-resistant variants to emerge

The president-elect’s pledge had a certain ring to it: “at least 100 million covid vaccine shots” in 100 days. That was on Dec. 8, before Joe Biden took office. On the fifth day of his presidency, Biden appeared to aim higher, saying 1.5 million shots per day was within reach.

Less than a month into the Biden presidency, as the rate of vaccinations continues to increase, the country has nearly reached the pace needed to achieve that milestone, with 1.48 million shots per day administered over the past week.

Yet as the country faces a deadly pandemic made even bleaker by emerging and more infectious variants of the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, epidemiologists and public health experts say the Biden administration must set its sights even higher.

“The man on the moon is the kind of goal that we should be aiming for at this point,” said Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. “Having this 1 million a day, or even 1.5 million vaccines a day, is just not aspirational.”

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By: Harry Stevens, Aaron Steckelberg and Naema Ahmed

4:03 PM: Germany extends lockdown for a month over variant fears

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of the country’s 16 states on Wednesday agreed to extend coronavirus lockdown measures for another month amid concerns about new variants.

The decision to keep restrictions until March 7 came even as new case numbers dropped significantly from their winter peak. The nationwide agreement released following a videoconference said that the political leadership was “very grateful” to citizens for reducing contacts and living with curbs on day-to-day life.

At the same time variants of the coronavirus are spreading, it cautioned, including some that are more contagious.

“Against the background of the virus mutations, opening steps must be cautious and be done gradually in order to successfully contain the infection chains,” the statement said. Restrictions in Germany mean that bars, nonessential stores and restaurants are closed, except for takeout. Hairdressers will be allowed to open from March 1, the statement said, while the biggest priority will be to open schools again.

Germany has a daily average of 80 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. While in the past it has put its target for openings at 50 per 100,000, with concerns about mutants it says it wants to see a level of 35 per 100,000 before the next stage of retail openings.

By: Loveday Morris

2:45 PM: WHO backs AstraZeneca vaccine amid concern over variants

a person sitting on a bench reading a book: A medical staff member gives the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine to a colleague in Melun, near Paris, on Monday. © Thomas Samson/AP A medical staff member gives the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine to a colleague in Melun, near Paris, on Monday.

The World Health Organization has recommended use of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, saying it is “highly effective and safe.”

Those comments came after concerns grew that the vaccine might not be as effective against new variants of the virus. Officials in South Africa suspended its use after researchers there found it offered “minimal protection” against mild to moderate infections caused by the new variant first detected in that country. The rollout is being paused while scientists assess the data, which is preliminary.

The guidelines released Tuesday by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization recommend the vaccine for prevention of the coronavirus in adults 18 and up, in two doses given in an eight- to 12-week interval. The group also said it is “safe and likely to be efficacious in older adults.” Countries including France advised against its use in people over 65 following criticism over a lack of data on its effectiveness in that age group.

Because it is relatively cheap and can be stored in a traditional refrigerator, the vaccine is viewed as what the BBC described as the “vaccine for the world.”

The vaccine developers cheered the WHO’s comments.

“It is excellent news that the WHO has recommended use of the SARS CoV-2 vaccine first produced in Oxford,” Sarah Gilbert, a vaccinology professor and chief investigator for the Oxford vaccine trial, said in a statement. “This decision paves the way to more widespread use of the vaccine to protect people against COVID-19 and gain control of the pandemic.”

By: Brittany Shammas

1:54 PM: White House lays out goal of health equity task force and its 12 members

The White House on Wednesday announced the 12 members of its covid-19 Health Equity Task Force. The advisory board is charged with issuing a range of recommendations on everything from the allocation of relief funds to effective outreach and communication to inform and guide the federal government’s response to a pandemic that has unduly burdened communities of color.

Task force members represent a diversity of expertise and backgrounds, including the president of a historically Black medical school, a disability rights lawyer, an Alaska Native tribal leader, and a high school student activist.

The task force will be chaired by Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine. She co-chaired Biden’s covid-19 advisory board during the presidential transition.

At a Wednesday news conference, Nunez-Smith said sharp disparities have plagued the country throughout the pandemic. They include who has been able to access testing and new covid-19 treatments and which communities are seeing the most hospitalizations and deaths.

The most recent wrinkle in disparities, she said, was the lopsided percentage of White Americans getting the vaccine compared with all other Americans.

Nunez-Smith said she plans to convene “listening sessions” with affected communities.

Representatives from six federal agencies will also sit on the task force: the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice and Labor.

The task force will issue recommendations to inform the Biden administration’s covid-19 response. The group’s work will end once it issues a final report to the White House’s covid-19 response coordinator documenting “the drivers of observed COVID-19 inequities, the potential for ongoing disparities faced by COVID-19 survivors, and actions to ensure that future pandemic responses do not ignore or exacerbate health inequities,” according to a statement.

The task force members are: Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership; James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College; Andrew Imparato, executive director of Disability Rights California; Victor Joseph, former chief/chairman of the Tanana Chiefs Conference; Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive; Octavio Martinez, executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin; Tim Putnam, president of Margaret Mary Health; Vincent Toranzo, a student from Broward County, Fla.; Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association union; Homer Venters, a physician and epidemiologist; G. Robert “Bobby” Watts, chief executive officer of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council; and Haeyoung Yoon, senior policy director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

By: Akilah Johnson and William Wan

1:11 PM: Federally supported mass vaccination sites coming next to Texas, after launch in California

The Biden administration said Wednesday that it was partnering with officials in Texas to set up three new mass vaccination sites in the state, part of an effort to leverage federal resources to expand the delivery of coronavirus shots.

The centers will be in Dallas, Houston and Arlington, said Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force — places he identified as hit especially hard by the pandemic. Together, the sites will be able to support the administration of more than 10,000 shots a day, Zients said, and will begin operations the week of Feb. 22.

The sites are NRG Stadium in Houston, AT&T Stadium in Arlington and Ferris Plaza Park in Dallas.

Last week, the administration said it was helping set up two such mass vaccination sites in California, one in Oakland and the other in Los Angeles. In addition to personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 1,100 active-duty troops will be deployed to support vaccination infrastructure, starting in California.

As part of his national strategy announced in his first days in office, President Biden promised to set up 100 new federally supported vaccination sites in 30 days. The administration is in conversations with additional states, such as Colorado, about possible locations for centers equipped to administer as many as 6,000 shots a day, according to two people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

“Anything that brings more vaccine and gives people more options for receiving it is a good thing,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

By: Isaac Stanley-Becker

11:52 AM: Health officials emphasize proper mask fit to protect against coronavirus variants, urging double masks in some cases

Federal health officials on Wednesday urged Americans to consider wearing two masks as one of several strategies to better protect themselves against the threat of more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

“We know that universal masking works,” said John T. Brooks, medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s covid-19 response. “And now these variants are circulating … whatever we can do to improve the fit of a mask to make it work better, the faster we can end this pandemic.”

Two methods substantially boost fit and protection, according to a CDC report and guidance released Wednesday. One is wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask. The second is improving the fit of a single surgical mask by knotting the ear loops and tucking in the sides close to the face to prevent air from leaking out around the edges and to form a closer fit.

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By: Lena H. Sun and Fenit Nirappil

10:58 AM: As WHO coronavirus mission leaves empty-handed, China claims propaganda win

TAIPEI, Taiwan — World Health Organization officials declared Tuesday their mission to Wuhan to seek the origins of the coronavirus was inconclusive. In Beijing, the outcome was treated as something certain: vindication and triumph.

The WHO’s headline announcement — that it would rule out the possibility the virus accidentally leaked from a Wuhan lab — finally “put an American conspiracy theory to rest,” China’s Global Times newspaper said on Wednesday. The WHO visit showcased China’s “positive, scientific, cooperative attitude,” said the official Reference News. Other locations in the world, particularly U.S. labs, must be investigated next, said Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control, because “historically the United States … launched biological and chemical warfare.”

As the WHO mission leaves China this week, it has yielded scant new public information about the pandemic’s origins but plenty of ammunition for a Chinese government that has long argued that the source was probably not its markets — and certainly not its labs.

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By: Gerry Shih

9:30 AM: One of the world’s oldest living people just beat covid

a man wearing a suit and tie: Sister Andre prays in a wheelchair on the eve of her 117th birthday. (Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images) © Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images Sister Andre prays in a wheelchair on the eve of her 117th birthday. (Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images)

In the weeks leading up to her 117th birthday, Sister André spent her days isolated in her room at the Sainte Catherine Labouré retirement home in the southern French city of Toulon. The nun was one of dozens of residents at the home who tested positive for coronavirus.

But on Tuesday, Sister André was declared recovered from the virus, a spokesman from her retirement home told Reuters, allowing her to hold onto her title as the oldest living European and second-oldest person in the world, according to Gerontology Research Group’s “World Supercentenarian Rankings List.”

Ten others at the retirement home died of covid-19, Le Parisien reported, after 81 of the 88 residents tested positive in January. There have been more than 3.4 million cases in France and more than 80,000 deaths, according to The Washington Post’s covid tracker.

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By: Jaclyn Peiser

9:08 AM: The guide to mastering the vaccine-appointment website

The process feels like something between trying to nab highly sought-after Beyoncé tickets and gladiatorial combat.

Scheduling coronavirus vaccine shots online is causing panic for eligible Americans and the children and grandchildren helping them. That includes me and my parents, hunting for scraps of information on supply and pressing reload at all hours on poorly designed websites. By the time you type in all the required information, available appointments have vanished.

2021 has made being a computer whiz a matter of life and death. Shame on America for asking seniors to beta test bad vaccine logistics software.

We designed this guide to help. There are ways to get assistance if you need it, and strategies to conquer the process if you’re persistent.

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By: Geoffrey A. Fowler

8:45 AM: Biden meets with business executives on coronavirus relief plan as House pushes it forward

President Biden met at the White House on Tuesday with JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon and other leading business executives to discuss the administration’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package, as Democrats work to speed the plan through Congress.

The meeting also included Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart; Sonia Syngal, chief executive of Gap; Marvin Ellison, chief executive of Lowe’s; and Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Vice President Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also took part.

The meeting with the business executives came as the White House accelerates its push for Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief proposal amid increasing opposition from congressional Republicans. House Democrats have unveiled key portions of the legislation and on Tuesday began holding what will be a lengthy series of committee meetings this week to vote on various portions of the package, leading up to the final House passage later this month.

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By: Jeff Stein and Erica Werner

8:04 AM: Specialized syringe shortage means Japan has millions fewer doses than it thought

a group of people in a store: Japanese officials say that millions could go without the Pfizer vaccine due to a shortage of specialized syringes. © Koji Sasahara/AP Japanese officials say that millions could go without the Pfizer vaccine due to a shortage of specialized syringes.

A shortage of specialized syringes in Japan could mean millions fewer people will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as the government prepares to roll out its long-awaited immunization campaign.

Such a setback could have serious implications for Japan’s plans to host the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart and Japanese officials last month said the government had secured enough doses to vaccinate 72 million people — based on the fact that each vial contains six shots. But to extract the sixth and final dose, Japan will need millions of low dead space syringes whose narrow design allows for the withdrawal of more vaccine.

“The syringes used in Japan can only draw five doses. We will use all the syringes we have that can draw six doses, but it will, of course, not be enough as more shots are administered,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said Tuesday, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

The agency quoted a government spokesman earlier in the week as saying the sixth dose in each Pfizer vial will generally “be discarded” if it cannot be extracted. With just five doses to each vial, Japan will only have enough to immunize 60 million people with the Pfizer vaccine.

The government has not yet approved the injection for use in Japan but says it will begin inoculating some health workers next week. After assessing the vaccine’s safety, officials will expand the program to include more health workers in March.

The rollout won’t be available to the general population until later in April, government officials have said.

By: Erin Cunningham

7:30 AM: Amid coronavirus stigma, elderly Asians are being targeted in the Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO — A surge in brutal attacks against Asian American seniors in the Bay Area, including one that resulted in the death of an 84-year-old Thai man, has left residents fearful and angry and activists — including Hollywood celebrities — demanding justice.

San Francisco’s mayor and police chief have promised to address concerns, and on Tuesday, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced the creation of a special response unit to investigate crimes against Asian Americans, especially the elderly.

There have been several attacks on elderly members of the Asian American community recently, but the brutal Jan. 28 assault of Vicha Ratanapakdee, which was captured on video, sparked particular outrage. In the video, which was widely shared around the world, Ratanapakdee is seen being violently shoved to the ground during his morning walk in San Francisco. He died days later.

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By: Jada Chin

6:45 AM: Coronavirus postpones Capitals-Flyers game just hours before it was to begin

Tuesday night’s game between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers was postponed hours before its scheduled start because of coronavirus issues, the National Hockey League announced.

The Capitals and Flyers had faced off Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. One Philadelphia player, defenseman Travis Sanheim, entered the NHL’s covid-19 protocols before Sunday’s game.

The entire Flyers team — players, coaches and other personnel — was given rapid tests before Sunday’s game, according to the NHL. All of those tests came back negative, and the league opted to let the game be played. The Flyers won, 7-4.

Another Philadelphia player tested positive late Monday night, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. That move triggered Tuesday’s postponement, and on Tuesday afternoon the Flyers’ Claude Giroux and Justin Braun joined Sanheim on the covid-19 list.

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By: Samantha Pell

6:00 AM: Single Pfizer vaccine dose offers strong protection against virus, according to British data

graphical user interface: A single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine significantly reduces infection among adults, according to reports of early vaccination data from Britain. © Dado Ruvic/Reuters A single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine significantly reduces infection among adults, according to reports of early vaccination data from Britain.

A single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine significantly reduces the risk of symptomatic infection among adults, according to reports on early data from Britain’s vaccination drive.

The findings — cited by Bloomberg and the Sun newspaper — show high levels of protection against covid-19 among those who were vaccinated, the reports say. Britain has administered the first doses of both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to more than 12.6 million people since Dec. 8.

The government has rapidly approved the use of vaccines in the hope that it allows Britain to exit the pandemic and restart a devastated economy. The results, which reports say should be published within days, provide some of the earliest real-world data on the vaccines’ impact on larger populations.

In Israel, authorities reported that fewer than 0.01% of people who received both Pfizer doses contracted covid-19 more than a week after the second shot. This week, Israeli researchers said that the Pfizer vaccine also appears to reduce viral load, helping curb virus transmission.

According to the British findings, the first dose of Pfizer’s double-shot vaccine lowers infection risk in younger adults by 65 percent — and begins working in just 15 days. Among those who are more than 80 years old, immunity from the first shot takes about three weeks to build, after which the risk of infection drops 64 percent, the Sun reported.

Overall, two shots of the Pfizer vaccine boosted protection levels to between 79 and 84 percent, depending on age, according to Bloomberg. The figures are not as high as the 95 percent efficacy rate observed in Pfizer’s clinical trials.

Still, the data is “quite amazing,” the Sun quoted Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, as saying.

“If these numbers are borne out, then they are very reassuring,” he said.

By: Erin Cunningham

5:14 AM: D.C. teachers union won’t strike; city withdraws restraining order request

The Washington Teachers’ Union voted Tuesday against authorizing a strike, with the union’s lawyer informing a judge that the more than 4,000-member group has no plans to participate in a strike or work stoppage.

The declaration prompted the city’s lawyers to withdraw a request for a temporary restraining order against the union over allegations that the group had been deliberating on a potential strike.

The groups have been fighting for months over how and when to safely reopen schools during the pandemic. Amid protests, the city partially reopened schools last week for the first time since March.

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By: Perry Stein

4:30 AM: Two-thirds of Americans are not satisfied with the vaccine rollout, Gallup poll finds

a group of people around each other: Lynda Barbieri, a Santa Clara County resident, holds her blouse sleeve after being inoculated against the coronavirus disease by clinical nurse Lynette Ancheta at a vaccination site at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, Feb. 9, 2021. © Brittany Hosea-Small/Reuters Lynda Barbieri, a Santa Clara County resident, holds her blouse sleeve after being inoculated against the coronavirus disease by clinical nurse Lynette Ancheta at a vaccination site at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, Feb. 9, 2021.

Amid an unprecedented effort to vaccinate the country against the coronavirus, most Americans are dissatisfied by the daunting process to get immunized, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday morning.

Days into the Biden presidency, 66 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the handling of the vaccine rollout, including 21 percent who were “very dissatisfied,” according to the Gallop survey of 4,098 adults conducted Jan. 25 to Jan. 31. The effort, riddled with long lines and supply shortages, has frustrated many people eligible for immunization, including health-care workers and seniors, as some have been unable to book appointments.

However, the same survey found an increase in interest to get the vaccine, with 71 percent of Americans now willing to be vaccinated, up from 65 percent in late December.

One of the most likely reasons people gave for feeling reluctant was concern about the rushed timeline. Twenty-two percent said they want to wait for more people to get vaccinated to confirm it is safe. But 28 percent cited other reasons, including theories that the virus is overblown or they already have antibodies.

The results may reflect lingering worries from the Trump administration’s initial rollout of vaccines, according to Gallup, as Biden and other Democrats have campaigned to convince Americans the approved vaccines are safe and effective.

While Americans in both political parties have increasingly expressed their willingness to get the vaccine, Democrats surveyed expressed a greater disposition to get vaccinated.

Ninety-one percent of Democrats said they were willing to be immunized while 51 percent of Republicans said the same — the highest percentages to date for each group.

By: Meryl Kornfield

4:08 AM: South Africa to use Johnson & Johnson vaccine on health workers

South Africa said Wednesday that it would begin inoculating healthcare workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week. © Dado Ruvic/Reuters South Africa said Wednesday that it would begin inoculating healthcare workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week.

South Africa will begin immunizing more than a million health-care workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as part of a study to determine the shot’s ability to protect against coronavirus, including the more contagious variant first identified there, the health minister said Wednesday.

The government this week scrapped plans to use the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca in the first phase of its rollout after trial results showed it had limited efficacy against the mild disease caused by the variant.

The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 57 percent effective when administered in South Africa as part of a massive global trial that included volunteers in Latin America and the United States. The company applied for emergency use authorization in the United States last week but has yet to be approved by any country.

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was in fact “proven effective” against the dominant variant in South Africa and that “the necessary approval processes for use in South Africa are underway.” The rollout is expected to begin next week.

Mkhize said that the study of the vaccine’s effectiveness among health-care workers, in partnership with the Medical Research Council, would help “ensure early identification of breakthrough infections.” He said that the government had not yet decided what to do with a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

Speaking at a webinar Tuesday, the lead researcher for AstraZeneca’s South Africa trial called on authorities not to scrap the vaccine, which he said has a high likelihood of preventing severe disease and death, Bloomberg reported.

“If South Africa becomes reckless in terms of the manner in which it deals with the AstraZeneca vaccine, it’s going to have global repercussions,” said Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand. “The AstraZeneca vaccine is the cheapest vaccine that’s going to be available to lower- and middle-income countries.”

“The toss-up is going to be between no vaccine or a vaccine that’s got a high likelihood of preventing severe disease and death,” he said.

By: Erin Cunningham

3:45 AM: Maryland’s Montgomery County to reopen classrooms by March

Pressured by parents with opposing views on when Maryland’s largest school system should reopen classrooms amid the pandemic, Montgomery County officials stayed the course with a plan to return starting next month.

The plan, unanimously approved by the school board Tuesday, takes effect in March as the suburban school system of more than 160,000 students marks a full year of virtual learning.

When buildings open again, some students will be back four days a week, and others will be back four days every other week. Younger students and children from schools hit harder by poverty generally will get more time in person.

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By: Donna St. George

3:05 AM: Chicago’s teachers agree to return to classrooms after striking deal with city

Teachers in Chicago, home to the nation’s third-largest school district, are set to return to classrooms this week after striking a deal with the city on health and safety standards, capping months of tense negotiations that raised the specter of a strike during a school year that has already seen repeated disruptions.

Chicago Teachers Union officials accepted the agreement begrudgingly after concluding that they would be unlikely to extract any more concessions from the city. Nearly 70 percent of members who cast ballots endorsed accepting the agreement, less than a day after union brass had passed a vote of “no confidence” in Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

“Let me be clear. This plan is not what any of us deserve,” said Jesse Sharkey, president of the union. “The fact that [Chicago Public Schools] could not delay reopening a few short weeks to ramp up vaccinations and preparations in schools is a disgrace.”

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By: Moriah Balingit

2:35 AM: Northern Virginia’s Arlington gets ready to go back to classrooms

After weeks of delays, Arlington Public Schools on Tuesday set a March timeline for returning students of all grade levels to classrooms for two days of in-person instruction each week.

The decision, which follows similar reopening announcements from neighboring districts, came on the same day that the Virginia Department of Education debuted a task force charged with helping students recover academically and emotionally from the remote-learning regimen imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Arlington Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán had repeatedly postponed scheduling a firm date for returning students to classrooms, citing a high level of coronavirus transmission in the county.

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By: Hannah Natanson

1:51 AM: Analysis: Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could be a global success story

Not long ago, talk of the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine provoked mockery. But now, Sputnik V — named after the world’s first satellite that saw the Soviets initially outpace the Americans in the space race — is starting to look like it could be a global success story.

It got a boost last week after the respected British medical journal the Lancet published a peer-reviewed paper that found the vaccine had 91.6 percent efficacy 21 days after the first shot and 91.8 percent for those over 60 years old, placing it on par with the celebrated Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

More than a dozen countries have approved the vaccine for use, with more likely to follow now that it has received the Lancet’s seal of approval. Sputnik V is cheaper than its Western competitors and does not require the same ultracold storage infrastructure that would complicate distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in much of the developing world.

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By: Ishaan Tharoor

1:50 AM: Airline industry fiercely opposed to mandatory covid tests for domestic flights

U.S. public health officials are weighing whether to require domestic travelers to show proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding their flights, drawing fierce opposition from airlines, labor unions and lawmakers but underscoring the severity of the pandemic and difficult trade-offs involved with trying to subdue it.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Axios on HBO there is an “active conversation” with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about whether to require coronavirus testing for domestic flights. Pressed Monday in a CNN interview on the likelihood of that happening, Buttigieg said “the CDC is looking at all its options.”

The federal government already requires international travelers to be tested before they board flights to the United States — a mandate that drew praise from many in the aviation industry. But requiring tests for domestic travelers raises a different set of challenges for the administration.

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By: Lori Aratani, Michael Laris and Ian Duncan

1:49 AM: Covid-19 variants could mean the virus will become a persistent threat

It has become clear that coronavirus variants can slip past some of the immunity generated by vaccines and prior infections. The virus is here to stay — and scientists will have to remain vigilant.

Vaccines may have to be updated, perhaps regularly. And the world will have to prepare for the possibility, even the likelihood, that over the long term, the novel coronavirus will become a persistent disease threat, albeit one that could eventually end up closer to the flu or the common cold.

That has become increasingly clear in countries such as Brazil, South Africa and Britain, where fearsome “variants of concern” have emerged, possessing the ability to spread more efficiently or evade aspects of the immune response.

South Africa suspended the rollout of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca after a trial there suggested the shots had little efficacy against the B.1.351 variant that was first identified in that nation.

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By: Carolyn Y. Johnson


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