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Nearly all of California under stay at home order as FDA authorizes second vaccine

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 12/18/2020 Meryl Kornfield, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Hannah Knowles, Lateshia Beachum, Laurie McGinley, Derek Hawkins, Marisa Iati, Siobhán O'Grady, Taylor Telford

Nearly all of California is under regional stay-at-home orders triggered by alarmingly low capacity in intensive care units. Statewide, a sliver of those critical beds were available: 2.1 percent.

The news came as a second coronavirus vaccine received emergency authorization Friday, an unprecedented scientific feat that gives the United States two powerful tools to fight a pandemic that emerged almost exactly a year ago.

Here are some significant developments:

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11:30 PM: WHO-linked plan to start global vaccine rollout in first half of 2021

A multilateral effort to develop and distribute vaccines has secured almost 2 billion doses, potentially allowing some vulnerable groups in participating countries to get vaccinated in the first half of next year, the World Health Organization said Friday.

The announcement came in an end-of-year update on the Covax Facility, a plan to ensure that low- and middle-income countries are not cut out of a vaccine race that has seen rich countries snap up the majority of early doses, leaving the rest of the world to wait.

At a news conference on Friday, officials from the WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, touted progress toward reversing that trend, at least a little, announcing deals with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Read the full story here.

By: Emily Rauhala

11:00 PM: Schools, caught by pandemic and confronting systemic racism, jettison testing for admissions

New York City on Friday announced major changes to how students are assigned to hundreds of middle schools, replacing a merit-based system that critics say exacerbated segregation with a lottery that is expected to create more diversity at the most sought-after schools.

The move was driven by the coronavirus pandemic, because tests typically used for admissions were not administered last spring. Selective high schools in D.C., Boston and San Francisco have also jettisoned admissions tests for the coming academic year, citing the crisis. But though these districts could reinstitute old systems after the pandemic abates, advocates have been pressing for these changes for years, and many expect them to outlive the pandemic.

“These changes will improve justice and fairness,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday, casting the announcement as a step toward equity. “This is clearly a beginning.”

Read the full story here.

By: Laura Meckler and Hannah Natanson

10:30 PM: Covid-19 is devastating communities of color. Can vaccines counter racial inequity?

Haywood County, a majority-Black community not far from Memphis, has one health department, one nursing home and no hospitals. The fatality rate from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is 50 percent higher than the state average.

But a supply of vaccines based strictly on its population would leave the county in the Tennessee Delta, site of the first known slaying of an NAACP member for civil rights activities, woefully short. There would be too few doses to make a dent in the disease’s burden on residents of color, who have been “devastated, both young and old,” said Gloria Jean Sweet-Love, who lives in Brownsville, the county seat, and serves as president of the NAACP’s state conference.

To account for the disparity, state officials are doing something unusual. They are taking a portion of their share of shots off the top and rushing it to places beset by poverty, poor housing and other factors most linked to the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on people of color.

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By: Isaac Stanley-Becker and Lena H. Sun

10:15 PM: A California hospital struggles to keep pace with the pandemic

APPLE VALLEY, Calif. — The hospital spreads over a block along Happy Trails Highway, which splits this high-desert town in half as it runs low and wide down a gentle hill.

All around St. Mary Medical Center is a new silence.

Fat Jack’s Bar & Grill is shuttered, never to reopen. The Chamber of Commerce, featuring a rearing, life-size model of the mid-century movie-star horse Trigger, is empty.

“Intermission,” reads the marquee of the High Desert Center for the Arts, which sits at the edge of this longtime home of antique Hollywood royalty, the singing cowboy Roy Rogers and his co-star wife, Dale Evans.

The hospital, though, is alive with the dying.

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By: Scott Wilson, Jon Gerberg and Michael S. Williamson

10:00 PM: America is finally about to get a lot more coronavirus tests. The question now: How best to use them?

After months of testing failures, shortages and long lines, the country’s coronavirus testing capacity is expected to increase rapidly in the next four months, with new technologies and efforts to expand production finally paying off.

The bad news is there still won’t be enough to make testing a routine act for most Americans, as some experts have called for. That means for America’s expanding testing to make an impact, the country needs to have a plan for how to deploy tests effectively.

Should U.S. officials, for instance, use new testing capacity to save what’s left of the school year? Or should testing be used to salvage parts of the devastated economy? Or to tamp down emerging hot spots? Should the federal government focus on producing more molecular lab tests — which are more accurate but slower — or hundreds of millions of cheaper, but less accurate, antigen tests?

Read the full story here.

By: William Wan

9:52 PM: California appeals court shoots down judge’s order allowing strip clubs and restaurants to open

A California appeals court on Friday blocked a San Diego judge’s order that allowed restaurants and strip clubs to reopen, a slight against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strict stay-at-home order. The three-judge panel’s order allows for the governor’s order to be upheld, the Associated Press reported.

California had asked for emergency intervention and the surprise order came quickly after the request, the AP reported. The order follows San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil’s ruling earlier this week allowing strip clubs and restaurants to open, which gave hope to those against the health measures set in an attempt to control the spread of the virus.

Two strip clubs have until Wednesday to ask the appeals court to visit the order again, according to the AP.

California reported more than 41,000 new cases of the virus on Friday, bringing the state’s total number of infections since March to 1.7 million, according to Washington Post data.

Newsom (D) reminded the public on Friday that transmission rates are at a high around the country.

“Simply put — everywhere you go, you’re more likely to get COVID-19 than you were a couple months ago,” he said. “I know we’re tired, but we cannot ignore this surge. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance.”

By: Lateshia Beachum

9:25 PM: Nearly all of California under stay-at-home order as ICU capacity is at 2.1 percent

Nearly all of California is under regional stay-at-home orders triggered by alarmingly low capacity in intensive care units.

Ninety-eight percent of the state has been told to not mix with other households and stay home when possible after all but one region, Northern California, dropped below a limit of 15 percent availability of ICU beds.

Statewide, a sliver of those critical beds were available: 2.1 percent. Two regions, Southern California and San Joaquin Valley, had 0 percent ICU availability. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Friday those regions were now tapping into their surge capacity of another 20 percent.

“I don’t want people to be alarmed by that, except I do want to raise the alarm bell about what we all need to do individually and collectively to address this rate of growth,” Newsom said in a video message.

Three days after Newsom instituted a plan to secure refrigerated storage units and body bags, the state reported 300 deaths Friday, the second-highest daily count after Thursday’s 379. California’s record daily death toll is fourth nationally, behind those in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The state counted more than 41,000 reported infections, following two record-breaking days for coronavirus cases reported in the state.

Meanwhile, projections cast a haunting outlook on the strain of California’s health-care system this winter. State forecasts show the number of people hospitalized with the virus doubling in a month.

“One thing that’s worrisome is that for quite a while in California we’ve had exponential hospitalizations and cases,” Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious-disease expert at the University of California at Santa Cruz, told the Associated Press. “That’s kind of terrifying.”

By: Meryl Kornfield

9:00 PM: Republican and Democratic members of Congress begin getting vaccine

After party leaders in the House and Senate received coronavirus vaccine shots on Friday, other Democrat and Republican members lined up to be vaccinated.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), a doctor, volunteered to get the shot and afterward encouraged his constituents to do the same when it becomes more widely available.

“After the incredibly challenging year we’ve had, I feel very blessed to receive this vaccine,” he said. “I hope that my decision to get it gives my constituents confidence in the safety and efficacy that have been demonstrated in the extensive trials.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) released a statement that he’d be receiving it at the recommendation of the Capitol Hill attending physician. Shortly after, he posted a photo of himself on Twitter getting the shot.

“Grateful for the hard work from the medical community, gov. partners, and others who are working around the clock to deliver a safe & effective #COVID19 vaccine,” Romney wrote. “It’s time for Congress to do its job and finish what our bipartisan group started by passing emergency COVID relief.”

There was some backlash to members of Congress being first in line for the vaccine as they continue to not pass a relief package for Americans struggling economically due to the pandemic.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) blasted lawmakers for receiving the vaccine before ordinary Americans, saying in a statement that, “Congress needs to stop treating itself as a special political class, and the mere suggestion that members of Congress are in any way more important than the very people who gave us the privilege of serving in Congress is appalling."

Fellow Floridian Rep. Charlie Crist (D) got the vaccine and said he wants to do his part to slow the spread of the virus.

“This vaccine is a true medical miracle that signals the light at the end of the tunnel we have all been desperately praying for since March," Crist said in a statement.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who also got the shot on Friday, acknowledged that he had received the vaccine before most Americans, but said he hoped doing so would encourage others to do the same.

“I am mindful that millions of Americans are still waiting for shots they will get after me, many of whom are workers on the front lines of this pandemic. I do not believe that I am more important than they are, but as national leaders it is important to lead by example," Beyer said. "Anyone who is given the opportunity to receive this vaccine is given an opportunity to protect people around them, and to fight the spread of this awful virus. Everyone should take this opportunity as soon as they can.“

By: Colby Itkowitz

8:28 PM: GOP congressman expresses fear of covid vaccine safety, says he won’t take it

As members of Congress begin receiving their first round of the coronavirus vaccine, one Republican lawmaker went on television and announced he would not be getting it.

Declaring it his “freedom” as an American to refuse the vaccine, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said he was more fearful of the vaccine than contracting the coronavirus, which has killed more than 310,000 Americans in less than a year.

“I’m an American and I have the freedom to decide if I’m going to take a vaccine or not, and in this case I am not going to take the vaccine,” Buck said during an interview on Fox Business with Neil Cavuto.

When Cavuto pressed him on why he would not get the vaccine, Buck advanced the unsubstantiated claim that the vaccine posed a greater risk than covid-19.

“I’m more concerned about the safety of the vaccine than I am the side effects of the disease,” Buck said. “I’m a healthy person. I think most Americans are healthy. I think what we should do is focus on the at-risk populations … but I am not going to take a vaccine.”

Public health advocates fear that if many Americans share Buck’s attitude about the vaccine it will make it more challenging to eradicate the disease. There are side effects to the vaccine, such as a sore arm, redness around the injection site or even flu-like symptoms, but those are normal reactions and not reason to not get the vaccine, experts say.

By: Colby Itkowitz

8:27 PM: Europe is paying less than the U.S. for many coronavirus vaccines

a man wearing a mask: A health-care worker administers an injection to a volunteer on Thursday during a Phase 3 trial of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Barcelona. (Angel Garcia/Bloomberg) A health-care worker administers an injection to a volunteer on Thursday during a Phase 3 trial of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Barcelona. (Angel Garcia/Bloomberg)

The European Union is paying less money than the United States for a range of coronavirus vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation currently being rolled out across the country, according to a Washington Post comparison of the breakdowns.

The costs to the E.U. had been confidential until a Belgian official tweeted — and then deleted — a list late Thursday.

Read the full story

By: Michael Birnbaum and Quentin Ariès

7:45 PM: Remote Pacific islands escaped the coronavirus. It devastated their economies anyway.

a close up of a hillside next to a body of water: The seat of government in Melekeok, Palau, on June 20, 2009. (Itsuo Inouye/AP) The seat of government in Melekeok, Palau, on June 20, 2009. (Itsuo Inouye/AP)

You might expect the incoming president of one of the only countries with no recorded coronavirus cases to see cause for optimism. But Palau’s president-elect, Surangel Whipps Jr., set to take office next month, said the pandemic had, in fact, wrought havoc on his shores. “You could say our world has been turned upside down,” he told The Washington Post.

“Last year at this time, Palau was looking toward a growing economy and stability,” he said, adding that the tiny island nation had been planning to host the Our Ocean conference on international marine conservation.

That’s all changed. Palau’s economy is set to shrink by 11.4 percent in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund — well beyond twice the percentage decline expected in the United States. The conference, once scheduled for this month, has been pushed back a year.

Read the full story

By: Adam Taylor

7:00 PM: What’s reopened and what’s still restricted in 16 cities around the world

Vaccines are here. But so is a resurgence in coronavirus cases in many parts of the world. Washington Post correspondents and contributors across 16 cities are keeping track of the responses from public health officials and others.

Read the full story here.

By: Brian Murphy

6:46 PM: After Denmark’s mink cull, questions over legality, science and what to do with ‘zombie minks’

a sign on a dry grass field: Burial pits containing the carcasses of culled minks in Karup, Denmark, on Dec. 10, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters) © Andrew Kelly/Reuters Burial pits containing the carcasses of culled minks in Karup, Denmark, on Dec. 10, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

JYLLINGE, Denmark — When Denmark’s prime minister announced last month that every mink in the country should be culled to prevent the spread of a mutant strain of coronavirus, Kim Christensen quickly got to work. The next morning at 6 a.m., the 53-year-old mink farmer began making his way through 44 rows of cages, dropping the animals — and thereby his father’s life’s work — into containers and gassing them with carbon monoxide.

Christensen and the farmworkers killed all of his 23,000 animals. He knew it would effectively end his business. But he also believed they were rushing to prevent a new pandemic from a potentially vaccine-resistant mink variant of the virus that had reinfected humans.

That assumption has now been called into doubt, and the government’s handling of the mink cull is haunting the country’s leadership — in more ways than one. Animals like Christensen’s that are among 15 million minks already slaughtered were hurriedly buried in huge trenches, their decomposing bodies soon resurfacing from the shallow graves as what the media dubbed “zombie minks.” Other mass graves pose a pollution risk to the drinking water supply.

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By: Martin Selsoe Sorensen and Loveday Morris

6:32 PM: Stanford apologizes, promises to include front-line doctors in first round of coronavirus vaccinations


Blaming an algorithm, Stanford Health Care apologized Friday for a plan that left nearly all of its young front-line doctors out of the first round of coronavirus vaccinations. The Palo Alto, Calif., medical center promised an immediate fix that would move the physicians into the first wave of inoculations.

Stanford’s turnaround followed a raucous demonstration by some of those doctors, who demanded to know why other health-care workers — including pathologists and radiologists who do not attend to covid-19 patients — would be vaccinated before they are.

The demonstration at Stanford could foreshadow similar disputes nationwide as the federal government and states begin the arduous process of distributing limited supplies of the first vaccines.

Read the full story here.

By: Lenny Bernstein, Hannah Knowles and Lateshia Beachum

5:51 PM: Russian vaccine Sputnik V is using Twitter to needle and undermine its rivals

A promotional website for Sputnik V, Russia’s state-backed coronavirus vaccine, proudly claims it is the “first registered vaccine against COVID-19.” Some experts would raise issues with that, but Sputnik V may have claimed another first: The first vaccine to have its own dedicated Twitter account.

Sputnik V is not just using Twitter to promote itself — but also to needle its rivals. It’s one part of an aggressive media strategy by the vaccine’s backers, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), to promote a Kremlin-backed product, in part by casting doubt on the alternatives.

Those who study Russian state propaganda tactics and its use of social media aren’t surprised. “I would expect nothing less of the Sputnik vaccine manufacturers, frankly,” said Nina Jankowicz, an expert on disinformation at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Read the full story here.

By: Adam Taylor

5:36 PM: Interior shuts Washington Monument after interior secretary tests positive for the coronavirus

a clock tower on top of a grass covered field with Washington Monument in the background: The COVID Memorial Project placed 20,000 American flags near the Washington Monument to memorialize the 200,000+ coronavirus deaths in the United States since the pandemic began. An interfaith memorial service was held Sept. 22 in Washington. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post). © Amanda Voisard/for The Washington Post The COVID Memorial Project placed 20,000 American flags near the Washington Monument to memorialize the 200,000+ coronavirus deaths in the United States since the pandemic began. An interfaith memorial service was held Sept. 22 in Washington. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post).

Officials have taken the extraordinary step of closing the Washington Monument starting Friday as a precaution after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt — who had been giving private, nighttime tours to associates — tested positive for the coronavirus.

Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin confirmed the temporary closure, saying the department acted after consulting with federal health officials. Bernhardt had led other Trump DOI appointees on a tour earlier this week. Some National Park Service staff at the site said they had been exposed to the secretary during his after-hours tour and are now in quarantine, which has led to a staffing shortage at the monument, Goodwin said.

“As we do in all circumstances when an employee attests to having covid-19, we work with our public health officials to ensure all guidance from the CDC is followed, such as identifying close contacts and cleaning areas as appropriate,” Goodwin said. “The Secretary was recently at the Washington Monument. In working with our public officials and out of an abundance of caution, a couple of employees have quarantined resulting in a temporary workforce reduction at the monument and its temporary closure.”

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By: Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein and Darryl Fears

5:07 PM: Italy announces holiday lockdown

ROME — Italy’s government Friday ordered a lockdown starting Christmas Eve and continuing through the first week of the new year in one of the most assertive moves by any country to avoid a holiday-related surge in coronavirus cases.

The decision means that around the holidays restaurants will be shuttered for all but takeout, and the government will ask people to leave their homes only for work reasons or health-related necessities. Exceptions will be made to allow up to two people to visit for the holidays.

Earlier this month Italy signaled that it would clamp down on holiday movement, and called for a freeze on travel between regions and a continuation of its 10 p.m. curfew through the holidays. But the decision Friday goes beyond that and is a response to health officials’ warnings that a third wave could grow before the second wave has even ebbed.

The challenging question of how to handle holiday travel and gatherings has prompted a range of responses across Europe. Britain’s approach is the opposite of Italy’s, for instance, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he will lift some restrictions between Dec. 23 and 27.

Johnson has faced pressure to reconsider. But Italy’s decision also figures to cause a backlash, coming after travelers have already booked train tickets and restaurateurs have already bought ingredients for Christmas, traditionally a day of dining out.

The rules during the two-week stretch drew immediate criticism online for being confusing, vague and ordered at the 11th hour. They were a result of several days of tense negotiation within the government. During the two-week stretch, there are several days — between Christmas and New Year’s — when restrictions will relax slightly, with retail stores permitted to reopen.

Italy has been particularly hard-hit by the virus, with the most deaths of any country in Europe. This month, the country has been averaging nearly 700 deaths per day.

By: Chico Harlan

4:55 PM: South Africa’s second coronavirus wave is fueled by a new strain, teen ‘rage festivals’

CAPE TOWN — For students around the world, 2020 has been a year of lost progress and pent-up energy. For high school seniors in South Africa, whose final term is ending well before vaccine rollouts, that feeling has been particularly acute: no formal dances, no graduation ceremonies — no fun.

But in a beach town last week, more than 3,000 17- and 18-year-olds went ahead with a huge, week-long graduation party, and more than 1,000 of them have since tested positive for the coronavirus. Hundreds more refused to get tested or gave wrong numbers to contact tracers.

Then, on Friday evening, South Africa’s health minister announced that researchers had discovered a new strain — similar to one found in Britain earlier this week — that he said seemed to affect young people more than strains that had previously been circulating.

Read the full story here.

By: Lesley Wroughton and Max Bearak

4:20 PM: U.S. stocks slump as Congress scrambles to avert shutdown

Wall Street ended the week in a rut Friday, with the Dow Jones industrial average declining more than 100 points as drawn-out congressional stimulus negotiations threatened to trigger a government shutdown.

While optimism about another round of economic relief fueled gains earlier this week, Congress’s negotiations have dragged on, and as of Friday a deal remained elusive.

Lawmakers are scrambling to finalize terms on a $900 billion economic relief package before funding for the federal government expires at midnight, triggering the beginning of a shutdown. Congressional leaders are considering another short-term extension of government funding to allow negotiations to continue.

“Risk appetite over the past few days has been fueled on optimism Congress would finally deliver a coronavirus relief bill,” Ed Moya, an equities analyst with Oanda, wrote in commentary Friday. “Some investors that bought the rumor and don’t have the patience to wait for the actual bill to get finalized are closing out of positions.”

Stocks swung wildly, hitting intraday highs, slumping in afternoon trading and then cutting some losses at the last minute. The Dow fell 124 points, or 0.4 percent, to 30,179.05. The S&P 500 declined 0.4 percent to 3,709.41, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq ticked less than 0.1 percent lower, to 12,755.64

The end-of-day rush was tied to Tesla’s hotly watched entry into the S&P 500, as firms snapped up billions in shares to track the company’s debut on the broad index.

Effective Monday, Tesla will represent roughly 1 percent of the S&P’s market capitalization, according to Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities.

“Because of its sheer size, Tesla’s inclusion into the index should translate to indexers buying roughly $80 billion worth of the company’s stock,” Ives wrote in commentary emailed to The Washington Post on Friday, “making this by a wide margin the largest rebalancing event in S&P’s history.”

Tesla’s stock ended the day up nearly 6 percent, at $695 per share.

By: Taylor Telford

3:45 PM: A man died after a medical emergency on a United flight. The CDC wants to reach fellow passengers.

a blue bench: Ticketing counters at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago sit empty on Wednesday. © Nam Y. Huh/AP Ticketing counters at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago sit empty on Wednesday.

United Airlines said Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had requested the passenger manifest of an Orlando-to-Los-Angeles flight that diverted to New Orleans because of a medical emergency earlier in the week.

The man who became ill on the plane was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The passenger had filled out a required checklist before flying, saying he had not tested positive for the novel coronavirus and did not have symptoms. United says now that “it is apparent the passenger wrongly acknowledged this requirement.”

Read the full story

By: Hannah Sampson

3:25 PM: Mexico City goes on red alert, shuts nonessential activities as coronavirus cases spike

MEXICO CITY — The Mexico City metropolis is shutting down nonessential activities and banning dining in restaurants during the holiday season as the number of coronavirus cases spikes, putting severe pressure on the hospital system, officials said Friday.

“We need extraordinary measures,” said Hugo López-Gatell, a senior Health Ministry official leading the country’s response to the pandemic.

The new restrictions will be in effect from Saturday through Jan. 10, officials said.

Mexico City and its suburbs are home to around 23 million people, roughly one-fifth of the country’s population. In recent weeks, hospitalizations of covid-19 patients have surged, with about three-quarters of all available beds in the region occupied, authorities said.

Authorities have called on Mexicans to cancel parties and traditional “posadas,” or nightly holiday celebrations that often feature singing. But the warnings, in many cases, have not been heeded. The center of the capital has been jammed with shoppers buying Christmas presents. Authorities have been reluctant to shift the capital region to the highest alert on its “stoplight” system indicating risk, because of concern about damage to the economy. But Mexico City and adjoining Mexico state will move to “red” status starting Saturday, officials said.

Only essential activities — such as food and medical sales, energy production, manufacturing, construction and funerals — will be permitted, authorities said.

“We must diminish the curve of infections so the hospital admissions decline,” said Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum. “That’s why we are taking these measures. We are asking for an extraordinary effort by citizens.”

The number of coronavirus cases in Mexico has jumped by 17 percent in the past week, according to official figures, largely driven by the accelerating spread in the capital.

More than 19,000 people have died of covid-19 in Mexico City during the pandemic, according to government figures. The actual total is believed to be significantly higher.

By: Mary Beth Sheridan

3:10 PM: Pennsylvania county offers nursing home employees $750 to get coronavirus vaccine

The government of Northampton County, Pa., will offer $750 incentives to employees of the state’s largest nursing home for getting the coronavirus vaccine.

The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine reached Americans this week, and the Food and Drug Administration is on the brink of approving Moderna’s vaccine. But despite evidence of their efficacy, coronavirus vaccines have become targets of widespread misinformation, resulting in some distrust in the tool experts say is key in ending the pandemic.

That’s why, on Wednesday, the Northampton County Council approved the use of Cares Act funding to encourage the 700 employees at Gracedale Nursing Home to get the vaccine, County Executive Lamont McClure said.

“If we want to save lives and livelihoods, getting residents and staff in nursing homes vaccinated will help us see the light at the end of the tunnel,” McClure said. He said Gracedale is the state’s largest nursing home.

He estimated the incentives will cost the county between $490,000 and $493,000 of the $27.6 million it received in federal pandemic relief funds, but said it will “go a long way” in controlling the spread of the virus in the region. At least 75 residents at Gracedale have died of covid-19 since the pandemic began, one of the highest numbers of deaths for a facility of its kind, according to the New York Times nursing home case data.

At one point, 85 percent of Northampton County’s coronavirus cases were in long-term care facilities, McClure said. But there are only two positive coronavirus cases at Gracedale right now, despite the overwhelming infection surge across the country, McClure said, and the vaccine incentive will play an important role in keeping the virus out of Gracedale in the coming months.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure we don’t have another period like February, March and April of this year,” McClure said.

By: Taylor Telford

2:48 PM: President-elect and Jill Biden to receive vaccines for the coronavirus Monday

Biden and Jill Biden will receive coronavirus vaccines Monday in Delaware, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a briefing with reporters Friday.

The announcement came hours after Vice President Pence and second lady Karen Pence received their vaccines for the coronavirus, a medical procedure shown on national television.

Psaki would not say where or when exactly the Bidens would be receiving their first dose.

The Biden transition team also said Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will get their vaccine the week after the Bidens.

Psaki said it was the recommendation by medical and health experts that Biden and Harris stagger their vaccines, which is why the vice president-elect is getting hers after Christmas.

By: Annie Linskey

2:13 PM: No normal life in France until late next year, despite E.U. vaccine plan, scientist says

a lit up city at night: The deserted Champs Elysees in Paris during a nationwide curfew to halt the spread of the coronavirus. (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo) © Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters The deserted Champs Elysees in Paris during a nationwide curfew to halt the spread of the coronavirus. (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo)

It may take until late next year for life to return to normal in France since the coronavirus pandemic, a scientific adviser to the government said Friday, even as European nations geared up to begin vaccinating people against the virus later this month.

Immunologist Jean-Francois Delfraissy, speaking to BFM television, said that vaccine production “will be slower than envisioned 15 days or three weeks ago,” Reuters reported. “If you look at the vaccination capabilities that we will have in France and elsewhere in Europe, we will need time."

According to Reuters, when asked if this meant French citizens would continue to face restrictions until autumn 2021, Delfraissy said: “More or less.”

On Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said that mass vaccinations in the European Union would begin Dec. 27, pending Pfizer’s approval by the EMA.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Friday that he expected the Pfizer vaccine to get the green light for distribution on Tuesday and immunization to begin shortly after.

“We expect that the first batch of the vaccine will be in our country on Dec. 26 and from the following day we will be able to have our first vaccinations at five hospitals in Athens and then in Thessaloniki,” he said in a vaccination plan meeting, Reuters reported.

By: Erin Cunningham

1:39 PM: French president updates public on his coronavirus prognosis, urges vigilance


French President Emmanuel Macron, who tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday and is isolating at a residence in Versailles, released a video on Twitter on Friday, updating the French population on his prognosis.

The roughly three-minute video — which was more casual than earlier communications from the Élysée Palace — shows Macron in a turtleneck, broadcasting from what appears to be his phone. He did not elaborate on where he may have contracted the virus, but said his symptoms have not evolved since Thursday.

He noted that he is still experiencing fatigue, a headache and a dry cough “like the hundreds of thousands of you who have lived through the virus or are living through it today.”

Macron, 42, registered his positive result on the government’s contact-tracing app, he said, and Élysée officials called everyone he met within the 48 hours before his diagnosis. He is working through his illness despite being “a bit slowed down due to the virus,” he added.

He ended his message encouraging French citizens to “truly continue to pay attention,” especially during the holidays. The fact that he fell ill, he said, signals that it “really can touch everyone.”

Macron said he respects social distancing guidelines, maintains distance, wears a mask and regularly applies hand sanitizer. “And despite everything, I caught this virus,” he said.

“And so we must continue to respect these rules,” he added. “I know they weigh on you, that sometimes they feel hard to you, but we must endure.”

Several other European leaders are in isolation after coming in contact with Macron in recent days.

By: Siobhán O'Grady

1:07 PM: Pelosi, McConnell receive coronavirus vaccine from the Capitol’s top doctor

a man wearing a costume: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) receives a coronavirus vaccine on Friday in her office on Capitol Hill. (Anna Moneymaker/AFP/Getty Images) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) receives a coronavirus vaccine on Friday in her office on Capitol Hill. (Anna Moneymaker/AFP/Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) received coronavirus vaccinations Friday, administered by the Capitol’s leading doctor as part of a plan he said is designed to preserve continuity of government.

Pelosi, 80, received a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from Brian Monahan, the attending physician of the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court.

Pelosi’s vaccination, viewed by the media, came just hours after Vice President Pence received a dose at the White House complex on live television in a bid to build public confidence in the safety of coronavirus vaccines.

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By: John Wagner and Mike DeBonis

12:17 PM: TSA managers told to plead with local health departments for early coronavirus vaccine access

a group of people standing in front of a building: Travelers pack a United Airlines check-in area at Newark International Airport before Thanksgiving. (Mike Segar/Reuters) Travelers pack a United Airlines check-in area at Newark International Airport before Thanksgiving. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The Transportation Security Administration’s chief medical officer instructed field managers this week to plead with local health departments and airport authorities to give the agency’s employees priority access to coronavirus vaccines since the Department of Homeland Security was not included in plans to give shots to federal employees under Operation Warp Speed.

Fabrice Czarnecki, the medical officer, said in a memo that the managers, called federal security directors, should underscore that the agency’s security officers process thousands of travelers each day and that officers needed vaccines “as soon as possible after front line health care workers.”

Czarnecki said the security directors should also encourage officers who are veterans, military reservists or members of the National Guard to try to get vaccinated by the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Defense Department.

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By: Andrew Becker and Ian Duncan

11:39 AM: Sheriff of Michigan’s largest county dies of the coronavirus as cases devastate Detroit-area law enforcement

Benny Napoleon wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Benny Napoleon, sheriff of Michigan's largest county and a former Detroit police chief, is shown in 2013. (Carlos Osorio/AP) Benny Napoleon, sheriff of Michigan's largest county and a former Detroit police chief, is shown in 2013. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

The sheriff of Wayne County, Michigan’s most populous, died Thursday after being hospitalized for several weeks with covid-19, officials said, as coronavirus infections continue to sweep through the Detroit-area law enforcement community.

Benny Napoleon, 65, announced in a Facebook post the week before Thanksgiving that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He was hospitalized Nov. 20 and placed on a ventilator about three weeks ago, according to his daughter, Tiffani Jackson, who has posted regular updates about his condition.

“Remember his generosity, integrity and faithfulness as a public servant for over 45 years,” Jackson told the Detroit Free Press late Thursday. “Remember how kind he was to everyone he came in contact with and how much he loved his family.”

The coronavirus has devastated police forces and other first responders in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, infecting dozens in recent weeks and forcing many more into quarantine.

At the time Napoleon tested positive, 51 sworn officers and 10 civilians from the Detroit Police Department had tested positive for the virus, the Detroit News reported. City fire officials also said at the time that nearly three dozen firefighters were isolated for infections.

Detroit police were also hit hard early in the pandemic. In the spring, when cases first surged in Michigan, more than 600 officers and civilian personnel were sidelined by the virus, and several employees died, including a veteran captain and a 911 operator.

Napoleon worked in law enforcement for more than four decades, rising from a rank-and-file officer in the 1970s to Detroit police chief from 1998 to 2001. He received a law degree, served as assistant Wayne County executive and was appointed sheriff in 2009. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for Detroit mayor in 2013.

By: Derek Hawkins

11:27 AM: Overwhelming majority of Americans report wearing masks, survey finds

a man wearing glasses: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield puts his mask back on after speaking on Capitol Hill in September. (Andrew Harnik/AP) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield puts his mask back on after speaking on Capitol Hill in September. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Most Americans believe it is everyone’s responsibility to mask up to protect themselves and others in the pandemic, a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found.

Of more than 1,675 Americans surveyed in early December, 73 percent said they wear a mask whenever they leave home.

That percentage “has increased by double digit percentage points across partisans and across age groups since May,” said the survey, published Friday. The percentage is also up from 65 percent in early October, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll, suggesting a gradual increase in mask-wearing.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has called masks “the most important, powerful public health tool” in combating the coronavirus. A growing body of research shows widespread mask use can save scores of lives and stave off economic damage. And a June analysis from Goldman Sachs estimated that a 15 percent increase in universal masking could prevent lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion.

Still, one-third of respondents to the Kaiser survey held at least one misconception about mask usage. Resistance to mask-wearing and belief that it is “a personal choice” is highest among those who also hold at least one misconception about face coverings, the survey found.

“Among adults who believe at least one misconception about face masks, six in ten (61%) say they think the seriousness of coronavirus is being exaggerated,” the survey said. “Half say wearing a mask is a personal choice.”

More than two-thirds of respondents said they are worried that they or someone in their family will get sick from the coronavirus, the highest share since Kaiser began tracking this question in February. Half said they thought the worst of the pandemic was yet to come.

By: Taylor Telford

10:31 AM: A Minnesota bar was sued over an indoor dining ban. It refuses to close.

a group of people holding wine glasses: Dean Wedul, right of center, lifts a drink with friends Wednesday at Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville, Minn. (Aaron Lavinsky/AP) Dean Wedul, right of center, lifts a drink with friends Wednesday at Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville, Minn. (Aaron Lavinsky/AP)

Over the TV sets playing at Alibi Drinkery on Wednesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) announced that his state would continue to ban indoor dining in its battle against the coronavirus. But inside the sports bar, the crowd of people watching his address had a different idea.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, they sang along as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blared from the speakers that night. In a since-deleted video posted by co-owner Lisa Monet Zarza, customers at the Lakeville, Minn., watering hole raised their fists and Bud Light bottles in defiance.

By Thursday, the bar had been sued by the state of Minnesota and told that its liquor license will be suspended. But Alibi Drinkery will stay open for business, Zarza said.

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By: Teo Armus

10:01 AM: Slovak prime minister tests positive for coronavirus, a day after French president’s positive result

a man talking on a cell phone: Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic leaves a face-to-face European Union summit on Dec. 11 in Brussels. (Francisco Seco/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic leaves a face-to-face European Union summit on Dec. 11 in Brussels. (Francisco Seco/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Slovakia’s government said Friday in a statement.

Matovic shared on Facebook what appeared to be an image of the text message alerting him of his positive result. His announcement comes a day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced he had also tested positive for the virus. Macron was experiencing symptoms at the time of his test.

Both men attended a summit of European leaders in Brussels last week. It is not clear where either contracted the virus, but an E.U. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss health assessments, said that “on the basis of our information, there is no link” between the infections and the meetings.

Cases are on the rise in Slovakia, where officials announced Thursday that most shops will be closed starting Saturday.

Several European leaders who met with Macron this week, including Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, are self-quarantining because of possible exposure to the virus. Costa, who had lunch at the Élysée Palace on Wednesday, tested negative Thursday but will continue to self-quarantine. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who met Macron on Monday and has also tested negative, will quarantine until Dec. 24, Reuters reported.

By: Siobhán O'Grady and Michael Birnbaum

9:53 AM: Countries will start getting vaccine in first half of 2021 through WHO-linked initiative

a stack of flyers on a table: A model of a coronavirus is displayed next to boxes of covid-19 vaccines at an exhibit by Sinopharm at the China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing on Sept. 5. © Mark Schiefelbein/AP A model of a coronavirus is displayed next to boxes of covid-19 vaccines at an exhibit by Sinopharm at the China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing on Sept. 5.

A multilateral effort to develop and distribute vaccines has secured almost 2 billion doses, potentially allowing some vulnerable groups in participating countries to get vaccinated in the first half of next year, the World Health Organization said Friday.

The announcement came in an end-of-year update on the Covax Facility, an effort to ensure that low- and middle-income countries are not left behind in a vaccine race that has seen rich countries snap up the majority of early doses.

“Images of people getting vaccines are giving us hope, but it must be hope for all, not hope for some,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general.

At the news conference, executives from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and India’s Serum Institute confirmed deals to supply Covax with hundreds of millions of doses. Officials said that they are also talking to Pfizer and Moderna, but did not discuss any prospective deals.

Canadian and French officials announced plans to help wealthy countries share surplus vaccine doses with countries that might otherwise go without. Pressed on when that would happen, Karina Gould, Canada’s minister for international development, declined to specify a timeline.

More than 190 countries, representing a large share of the world’s population, have signed on to participate in Covax. Under the plan, both rich and poor countries pool money to offer manufacturers volume guarantees for potential vaccines.

The initiative may be the only way that low-income countries will be able to source the vaccine doses needed to end the pandemic. But whether it will have enough funding and vaccines is as yet undetermined.

“We still need more doses, and we still need more money,” Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, said Friday. “But we have a clear path to securing what we need to end the acute stage of this pandemic.”

By: Emily Rauhala

9:12 AM: Trump tweets incorrectly that Moderna vaccine has been approved

Trump erroneously tweeted Friday morning that Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine had been “overwhelmingly approved” and that distribution would begin immediately, appearing to confuse an advisory panel’s endorsement with full authorization from health officials.

The Food and Drug Administration has not yet authorized the vaccine.

On Thursday night, the FDA pledged to move quickly to approve the Moderna injection, shortly after the agency’s vaccine advisory panel voted almost unanimously that the benefits of the highly effective vaccine outweighed its risks for adults.

The FDA intends to authorize the vaccine Friday, people familiar with the process previously told The Washington Post.

Pence also said in during a vaccination event Friday morning that he expected the agency to approve it later in the day. He received an injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during the event, aired on live television.

Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said Friday that he expected to see the first doses of the Moderna vaccine administered by next week.

“I would hope Monday or Tuesday, but you know, we just have to wait to see for the final decision. But very soon — literally within a few days,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Today” show.

Asked for comment on Trump’s tweet, an FDA spokesperson provided a statement from Thursday promising to “rapidly work toward finalization and issuance of an emergency use authorization.” A Moderna spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

By: Derek Hawkins

8:57 AM: Israel is starting to vaccinate, but Palestinians may wait months

Suhad Saidam adjusts a face mask on a child at her sewing workshop in Gaza City on Monday. (Adel Hana/AP) Suhad Saidam adjusts a face mask on a child at her sewing workshop in Gaza City on Monday. (Adel Hana/AP)

JERUSALEM — Israel, like many high-income countries, is moving quickly to roll out newly approved coronavirus vaccines, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled to get the symbolic first shot Saturday. But next door in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the prospects for vaccinating almost 5 million Palestinians are far less certain, as financial, political and logistical hurdles could delay inoculations against the raging pandemic for months.

The split highlights not only the tense disparities between Israel and the Palestinian populations it effectively controls, but the growing divergence between vaccine haves and have-nots as the world enters the pandemic endgame.

The United States, Britain, Russia and other developed countries have already begun administering vaccines to health-care workers, the elderly and other priority groups. Other nations are receiving shipments now. But poorer populations could be waiting much longer. Internal World Health Organization documents leaked this week warned that vaccines might not reach some countries until 2024, a delay that could hamper global efforts to contain the virus.

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By: Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin

8:23 AM: Pence receives coronavirus vaccine on live television

Vice President Pence receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine Friday at the White House complex. (Andrew Harnik/AP) Vice President Pence receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine Friday at the White House complex. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Pence, who heads the White House’s coronavirus task force, was vaccinated against the disease on live television Friday, along with his wife, Karen Pence, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

As reporters looked on, the three received shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in their arms, administered by Walter Reed National Military Medical Center staff, in a room in the White House complex.

“Great job,” a masked Pence said after a small bandage was placed on his arm following the shot.

In remarks afterward, Pence said, “I didn’t feel a thing. Well done.”

“Karen and I were more than happy to step forward,” he said, adding that he wanted to build “confidence in the vaccine.”

Pence touted the Trump administration’s efforts to speed production of coronavirus vaccines, which he touted as a “medical miracle.”

Distribution of vaccines, he said, is “the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Others on hand for the event included Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several screens were set up in the room where the vaccinations took place. They showed messages including: “SAFE and EFFECTIVE” and “PROMISES MADE — OPERATION WARP SPEED — PROMISES KEPT.”

Trump, meanwhile, has no public appearances scheduled on Friday. He touted vaccine distribution in several tweets.

The only event on Trump’s schedule advertised by the White House is a closed-door meeting with Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary.

By: John Wagner and Katie Shepherd

7:38 AM: 2020 was ‘worst year on record’ for tourism, U.N. says

a man holding a sign: A flight attendant stands in front of the entrance of a new Lufthansa corona quick test center at the airport in Munich, Germany, Nov. 12. The United Nations World Tourism Organization said this week that 2020 was the "worst year on record in the history of tourism" due to the pandemic. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) © Matthias Schrader/AP A flight attendant stands in front of the entrance of a new Lufthansa corona quick test center at the airport in Munich, Germany, Nov. 12. The United Nations World Tourism Organization said this week that 2020 was the "worst year on record in the history of tourism" due to the pandemic. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

The year 2020 was “the worst year on record in the history of tourism” due to covid-related travel restrictions and low consumer confidence amid the pandemic, the United Nations’ tourism agency said this week.

By the end of the year, 1 billion fewer travelers will have arrived at international destinations than in 2019, causing a potential overall loss of $2 trillion in global gross domestic product, the World Tourism Organization said.

The losses are expected to eclipse the damage the industry suffered in the wake of the global financial crash in 2009.

“Global tourism will have returned to levels of 30 years ago,” the organization said. A return to pre-pandemic travel levels could take up to four years.

“It is ever clearer that tourism is one of the most affected sectors by this unprecedented crisis,” the organization’s secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said in a statement Thursday.

“Even as the news of a vaccine boosts traveler confidence, there is still a long road to recovery,” he said.

According to the data, the Asia and Pacific region saw the largest decrease in arrivals — 82 percent in the first 10 months of 2020 — in part because it was the area first hit by the virus, but also due to the high level of travel restrictions. The Middle East recorded a 73 percent decline, the agency said, while Africa saw a 69 percent drop. International arrivals in Europe and America declined by 68 percent.

France, Germany and the United States have shown some signs of recovery in recent months.

“Clear and consistent rules between countries will go a long way towards building back trust in international travel and boosting consumer confidence,” Pololikashvili said.

By: Erin Cunningham

7:08 AM: Outbreak kills 8 nuns in a week at Wisconsin convent

A coronavirus outbreak has ripped through a retirement home for nuns established by the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province in suburban Milwaukee, killing eight women since Dec. 9 and sickening others.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the deaths Thursday.

“All CDC guidelines are being followed regarding the care of sisters affected by covid-19 and to avoid spread of the virus, including wearing masks, social distancing and handwashing,” the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province said in a statement, according to the Journal Sentinel report.

The Notre Dame of Elm Grove home houses 88 women, some of whom have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in recent days, the Journal Sentinel reported. The first death happened on Dec. 9, and four women died on Monday.

“Even though they’re older and most of the sisters that did go to God are in their late 80s, 90s … we didn’t expect them to go so, so quickly,” Sister Debra Marie Sciano told the Associated Press. “So it was just very difficult for us.”

Coronavirus outbreaks have hit convents hard during the pandemic. As in nursing homes, the residents who live in these religious communities tend to be older and more vulnerable to complications from the virus. At a Michigan convent, the virus killed 13 women starting in April. Six more nuns died at a convent in Greenfield, Wis.

By: Katie Shepherd

6:33 AM: Covid three times as deadly as the flu in French hospitals, study says

A review of data from more than 89,500 coronavirus patients hospitalized in France between March 1 and April 30 found that the virus killed critically ill people at a rate three times higher than the influenza virus, according to a study published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine on Thursday.

Nearly twice as many people were hospitalized with covid-19 in the early spring than with the flu during that period, the study said. The coronavirus patients were more likely to develop many life-threatening complications.

“Patients admitted to hospital with covid-19 more frequently developed acute respiratory failure, pulmonary embolism, septic shock, or hemorrhagic stroke than patients with influenza,” the study said.

According to the study’s findings, covid-19 patients stayed in the ICU almost twice as long as flu patients, with an average stay of 15 days. They were also more likely to be placed on a ventilator.

“Our study is the largest to date to compare the two diseases and confirms that covid-19 is far more serious than the flu,” University Hospital of Dijon professor Catherine Quantin, who co-led the study with other scientists from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, said in a news release.

Further compounding the findings is the fact that France experienced a particularly deadly flu season this year.

“The finding that the covid-19 death rate was three times higher than for seasonal influenza is particularly striking when reminded that the 2018/2019 flu season had been the worst in the past five years in France in terms of number of deaths,” Quantin added.

By: Katie Shepherd

6:31 AM: Tens of thousands of migrants stranded, killed or involuntarily returned amid pandemic

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) marked International Migrants’ Day on Friday by calling attention to tens of thousands of migrants from the restive Horn of Africa region who have been stranded, killed or involuntarily returned during the pandemic, with some incidents linked to coronavirus-related restrictions.

A spokeswoman, Yvonne Ndege, said 14,500 migrants from the Horn of Africa, which includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, were stranded in Yemen’s war zone, unable to reach Saudi Arabia because of coronavirus-related border closures. More than 400 were also stranded in Somalia and more than 1,100 in Djibouti, which has emerged as the main launching place for boats headed across the Red Sea.

Ndege added that more than 50 migrants were killed trying to return home from Yemen, most in horrific killings at sea perpetrated by human smugglers who pushed the migrants, mostly young men, off overcrowded boats. Some who managed to return to Djibouti died of hunger and thirst in the long walk across the desert to Ethiopia.

As many as 40,000 Ethiopian migrants were involuntarily returned to Ethiopia during the pandemic, mostly from Saudi Arabia but also from other Persian Gulf countries, according to the IOM.

Overall, however, coronavirus-related travel restrictions have reduced migration numbers by 71 percent during the pandemic compared the same period last year.

While the migrant route out of Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe often receives more attention, more Africans attempt the perilous voyage across the Red Sea from Somalia and Djibouti, seeking refuge and economic opportunity on the Arabian Peninsula.

By: Max Bearak

6:17 AM: College basketball coach says all 15 of his players have tested positive for coronavirus

a person holding a racket: Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson reacts to a foul call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Boise State, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Houston. © Michael Wyke/AP Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson reacts to a foul call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Boise State, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Houston.

University of Houston men’s basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson revealed Thursday that every player on his roster, 15 to be exact, has at one time or another tested positive for the coronavirus this year. Some members of Sampson’s coaching staff have also tested positive, he said.

Just over a third of Sampson’s team returned to the practice court on Tuesday after a recent outbreak forced the program to halt workouts last week. Sampson held practice with just six players from Tuesday through Thursday and expects to have eight or nine available when the Cougars (4-0) are scheduled to return to the court on Sunday to host Alcorn State.

Houston hasn’t played a game since its Dec. 5 win over South Carolina. Sampson, 65, watched that game from his living room because of coronavirus contact tracing protocols after his son and assistant coach, Kellen Sampson, tested positive. Games against Sam Houston State and Rice were postponed earlier this month, and Saturday’s game against Alabama was canceled.

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By: Glynn A. Hill

5:47 AM: Sweden’s King slams covid strategy: ‘We have failed’

a group of people standing next to a person in a suit and tie: King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden in Stockholm on Dec. 10, 2019. © Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden in Stockholm on Dec. 10, 2019.

King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden slammed the nation’s coronavirus strategy in his annual Christmas address, criticizing officials for allowing more than 7,800 people to die of covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

“I think we have failed,” he said, the BBC reported. “We have a large number who have died, and that is terrible.”

Neighboring Norway and Finland have had 404 and 484 deaths, respectively, since the start of the pandemic, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Swedish officials adopted an uncommon strategy in dealing with the pandemic. Instead of making restrictions similar to those deployed across much of Europe, Sweden allowed most of its businesses, schools and even bars and nightclubs to remain open. Critics of closures praised the approach, but some public health experts worried that it would lead to a much worse pandemic for the Nordic nation.

As new cases soared last month, Swedish officials adopted stricter recommendations, asking citizens to limit gatherings to no more than eight people and shifting to remote learning in schools near Stockholm.

“The people of Sweden have suffered tremendously in difficult conditions,” the king said Thursday. “One thinks of all the family members who have happened to be unable to say goodbye to their deceased family members. I think it is a tough and traumatic experience not to be able to say a warm goodbye.”

By: Katie Shepherd

5:14 AM: For college freshmen, pandemic results in a first-year experience unlike any other

a close up of a person: Francesca Gastaldo, 17, a first-year student at Rice University in Houston, adjusted her expectations for the fall semester because of the pandemic. © Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post Francesca Gastaldo, 17, a first-year student at Rice University in Houston, adjusted her expectations for the fall semester because of the pandemic.

As the first semester of their college experience grinds to a close, many freshmen are pondering an elementary question: Was it worth it?

The mostly virtual classes, the grab-and-go meals, the weekly coronavirus tests, the Zoom socials, the dorm restrictions, the games without fans, the . . . well, the list goes on. The first year of college is perhaps the most anticipated, yet being a freshman this year was upended in every possible way. Experiences varied from school to school, person to person, but while some students have been content with their freshman year so far, many others have found it stressful, frustrating and disappointing.

Francesca Gastaldo knew her freshman year at Rice University in Houston would be different from what she had originally anticipated when she began applying to colleges last year as a senior at School Without Walls in D.C. Even though she knew most of her classes would be mostly online, she moved into an on-campus dorm when the semester began. She’s glad she did, even though the circumstances weren’t ideal.

“Although it’s a weird experience, I wanted more of the college experience rather than sitting at home feeling like it was high school Part Two,” said Gastaldo.

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By: Joe Heim, Nick Anderson, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Susan Svrluga

4:14 AM: Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski makes his call in a pandemic dilemma: Sending players home for break

Mike Krzyzewski et al. playing instruments and performing on a stage: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski reacts after his team turns the ball over during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame on Wednesday in South Bend, Ind. Duke won 75-65. © Robert Franklin/AP Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski reacts after his team turns the ball over during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame on Wednesday in South Bend, Ind. Duke won 75-65.

Last week, Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that the Blue Devils would forgo their remaining nonconference games, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic but also to give his players time over the holidays to spend with their families, whom they haven’t seen since they arrived on campus in August.

“This is the best decision we could make as a program, in making sure that we are doing the right thing for our players,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “This will also allow our team to have time over the holidays to safely enjoy with their families. These kids need to be with their families, at least for a little bit. … These kids go through so much, and we need to take care of them.”

Krzyzewski’s announcement Dec. 10 came two days after he publicly questioned whether the season should continue amid a national coronavirus spike that has caused the cancellation of hundreds of games. His decision to let his players return home for a few days after Wednesday night’s win at Notre Dame reflects an acknowledgment that the pandemic is taking both a mental and physical toll on players. But while Krzyzewski says he is looking out for his players’ psychological well-being, letting them leave the bubble Duke has created for them to travel home to their families increases a risk of coronavirus exposure at a time when the number of positive cases has exploded across the country.

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By: Matt Bonesteel

3:07 AM: Employers can require vaccinations, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says

Employers can legally require workers to get the coronavirus vaccine before returning to the office, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirmed in a new set of guidelines published this week.

For anyone with one of two key exceptions — a disability or a sincere religious belief that bars vaccinations — employers must provide “reasonable accommodation,” if possible. But, in general, an employer can require the vaccine, the federal agency said.

If there is no way to reasonably accommodate an employee who cannot be vaccinated, and that person would pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others, then an employer could exclude the unvaccinated worker from the workplace, the agency said.

“Employers should conduct an individualized assessment of four factors in determining whether a direct threat exists: the duration of the risk; the nature and severity of the potential harm; the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and the imminence of the potential harm,” the EEOC said. “A conclusion that there is a direct threat would include a determination that an unvaccinated individual will expose others to the virus at the worksite.”

Even if an unvaccinated employee would jeopardize the health of others, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation whenever possible. Accommodations could include temporarily changing a person’s job duties, requiring social distancing or using plexiglass barriers to separate employees, among other steps, the agency said.

Employers start preparing for the coronavirus vaccine with a question: Can we require it?

By: Katie Shepherd

2:21 AM: Theaters are shut, but ‘A Christmas Carol’ is forever. The endless variety online proves it.

This year, you can have “A Christmas Carol” any way you want it. Almost. You’d like to see it in real time on your laptop? You can do that. Want to gather around the radio like in the olden days and listen to the stage adaptation on Christmas Day? Yup, you can do that, too. How about a puppet version? A musical version? A digital production in which Scrooge is Ebenezer’s great-great-great-great granddaughter? Or one in which all the characters are played by a single actor?

With the pandemic shutdown erasing one public ritual after another, theater companies have scrambled to deliver their Yuletide breadwinner on another platform — even if the money it normally rakes in will only be the equivalent of Scrooge’s table scraps. If at all.

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By: Peter Marks

1:50 AM: As customers and coastlines disappear, a New Orleans chef fights for her community

NEW ORLEANS — It was less than a week since the Mosquito Supper Club had lost power because of Hurricane Zeta, and rain was in the forecast. Chef Melissa M. Martin and her staff were working quickly to rearrange seating yet again. Tables were moved under awnings, staff huddled around the reservations list, and Martin jumped behind the bar to dry glassware.

On this late October evening, early dinner service was in full swing, and laughter erupted from the main dining room, home to one of two grand communal tables. Socially distanced parties occupied every corner of the Uptown cottage, their faces aglow by candlelight. But for Martin, the scene was still a ghost of its former self.

“I feel like I’m mourning the death of my restaurant,” she said from behind her mask, wiping each wine glass and holding it up to the light before moving on to the next one.

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By: Dayana Sarkisova

1:00 AM: This interactive tool tracks coronavirus travel restrictions by country

There are many regulations for travel abroad during the pandemic, especially for Americans, amid rising coronavirus cases. If you do need to travel, or are considering making a trip abroad, it can be hard to find the most up-to-date information on entry requirements for both your destination and your home base, as country-specific regulations are frequently changing to reflect quickly shifting coronavirus trends.

But several months into the pandemic, more detailed tools for monitoring restrictions on travel by country are emerging. And Skyscanner’s interactive covid-19 travel map is perhaps the most detailed option.

Accessible through Skyscanner’s homepage, the restrictions map is in beta, and it can be set to different origin countries to display varying restrictions. Color-coded, it displays low-restriction, moderate-restriction and major-restriction destinations in stoplight-style green, yellow and red. Countries without data on their restrictions, as well as the origin country, appear in gray.

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By: Shannon McMahon

12:13 AM: White House aides talked Trump out of last-minute demand for stimulus checks as big as $2,000

White House aides intervened Thursday to prevent President Trump from issuing a statement calling for substantially larger stimulus payments for millions of Americans, according to two people granted anonymity to share details of the private exchange.

On a phone call Thursday afternoon, Trump told allies that he believes stimulus payments in the next relief package should be “at least” $1,200 per person and possibly as big as $2,000 per person, the officials said. Congressional leadership is currently preparing a stimulus package that would provide checks of $600 per person.

Trump was in the middle of formally drafting his demand for the larger payments when White House officials told him that doing so could imperil delicate negotiations over the economic relief package, the officials said. Congressional Republicans have insisted that the relief bill remain less than $1 trillion, and it’s currently designed to cost around $900 billion. Larger stimulus checks could push the package’s total over $1 trillion.

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By: Jeff Stein

12:13 AM: Bowl season during the coronavirus: More teams are opting out of already diminished festivities

a store front at day: The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif., is the site of one of the College Football Playoff semifinals scheduled for Jan. 1. © Jae C. Hong/AP The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif., is the site of one of the College Football Playoff semifinals scheduled for Jan. 1.

Like its regular season counterpart, college football’s bowl season has seen its fair share of atrophy because of the coronavirus pandemic. Eleven bowl games have been canceled so far, with another two moved to different cities. That leaves 32 still standing. Ten teams, through Dec. 16, have opted out of bowl consideration.

The games will feel different, too, and not just because fan attendance will be either prohibited or severely curtailed.

Steve Beck, president and executive director of the Military Bowl Foundation, said there will be fewer pregame events for this year’s game, scheduled for Dec. 28 in Annapolis. Teams will arrive only two or so days before the game, unlike previous years when they were on site for nearly a week for a full schedule of tourist activities, dinners and other events. He anticipates that both teams at this year’s game probably will decide to lock themselves down in their hotels for most of their time in the area, which is another issue for Beck: One of the hotels bowl officials planned to use to host a team, the Washington Hilton, is closed because of the pandemic.

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By: Matt Bonesteel

12:13 AM: As small businesses struggle, a nursing-uniform company hits its stride

For months, Damion Childs stood behind the counter of his medical uniform store, dressed in a hazmat suit with a Bible on the counter, watching nervously as the nurses finished their shifts at the Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center South across the street and came in for a change of work clothes.

“The people coming in here … they’re walking in fresh from work,” Childs said of the nurses from the hospital, which treats covid-19 patients. “I might’ve sweated about 10 pounds off during those two months. … It was scary.”

As the pandemic rolled across the country, Childs’s small store, Margie’s Uniforms, joined the mask makers and food delivery services that found themselves essential — and are now preparing for cases to surge again. Margie’s Uniforms sells an array of medical uniforms, from plain blue tops to floral-patterned scrubs along with some medical equipment, such as stethoscopes.

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By: Lateshia Beachum


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