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Fixing the vaccine distribution system in United States must be top priority, experts say

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/11/2021 Paulina Villegas, Brittany Shammas, Antonia Noori Farzan, Erin Cunningham, Adam Taylor, Kim Bellware, Hamza Shaban
a person sitting on a chair in a room: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) stops to look at the damage to the Capitol building early Thursday morning. © Andrew Harnik/AP Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) stops to look at the damage to the Capitol building early Thursday morning.

As new coronavirus cases in the United States rise precipitously after the holidays, health experts are urging states and the federal government to speed up vaccine distribution, which has proved a logistical nightmare.

“In large metro areas such as Boston, Washington, D.C., and Houston, we need to be vaccinating at least 10,000 people every day for the next eight months to stay on target,” vaccine expert Peter Hotez wrote for The Washington Post. “We are not even close to that,” he added.

Here are some significant developments:

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11:30 PM: To fill

By: Washington Post Staff

10:45 PM: At CES this year: Smart masks, stickers to detect covid, robot comfort cats

Photo illustration for CES grab bag piece. Credit: Washington Post illustration; images from Airpop, BioIntelliSense, Yukai Engineering, Samsung and iStock. © Washington Post illustration; images from Airpop, BioIntelliSense, Yukai Engineering, Samsung and iS... Photo illustration for CES grab bag piece. Credit: Washington Post illustration; images from Airpop, BioIntelliSense, Yukai Engineering, Samsung and iStock.

SAN FRANCISCO — At CES, the tech industry’s biggest showcase, covid-19 has inspired new products to power extreme digital living. Here comes a big WiFi update, smart masks and even robot comfort cats.

The pandemic has also forced the event online. Instead of gathering 171,268 geeks in Las Vegas for a week of gadget demos, schmoozing and hiking conference halls, CES this year is all virtual, featuring thousands of competing Zoom streams at all times of day and night. We warmed up our webcams and watched hours of product presentations so you don’t have to.

Sure, the news may be focused on fighting a killer virus and America’s constitutional crisis. But in a way, consumer tech has never been more relevant. Hear us out: Sales for the U.S. tech industry hit historic highs in 2020 according to the NPD Group, rising 17 percent because so many people were buying notebooks, tablets, headphones, TVs and smartwatches.

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By: Geoffrey A. Fowler, Heather Kelly, Dalvin Brown and Rachel Lerman

10:00 PM: Hunting pastime spikes during pandemic. Conservationists are glad. Here’s why.

Conservationists and wildlife officials have spent years trying to stave off the decline of hunting in America. In 2020, they finally saw a glimmer of hope.

“I’ve been working on this issue for 15 years,” said Matt Dunfee, the director of special programs at the Wildlife Management Institute, a national conservation nonprofit group that focuses on restoring wildlife populations. “All I needed was a pandemic.”

For decades, the number of hunters — who are mostly older, White males — has steadily dwindled. That’s led to a loss of conservation funding at state wildlife agencies, which largely rely on license sales to support their budgets. But, unexpectedly, officials in nearly every state have reported a moderate-to-massive spike in hunting in 2020.

“I’d say that the pandemic definitely played a role in getting me out in the woods,” said Senna Redin, a Minnesota resident who harvested a deer after hunting for the first time in 2019.

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By: Alex Brown

9:15 PM: Vaccine requirements for travel would be ‘discrimination,’ global tourism group says

Following indications by lawmakers and at least one airline that vaccination against the coronavirus could become a requirement for international travel, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) on Monday said mandating inoculations would be discriminatory.

In a Reuters panel discussion where health experts also expressed a long road to global herd immunity, the head of the organization called for global prioritization of “vulnerable groups,” and admonished those touting potential vaccine requirements for a return to travel.

“We should never require the vaccination to get a job or to travel,” WTTC chief executive Gloria Guevara said in the Reuters video panel. “If you require the vaccination before travel, that takes us to discrimination.”

Read the full story here.

By: Shannon McMahon

8:30 PM: President of Portugal tests positive for coronavirus

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal has tested positive for the coronavirus just two weeks before he seeks reelection on Jan. 24, his office confirmed Monday.

The 72-year-old president, who is ahead in the polls, will self-isolate at his official residence in Lisbon and has informed the president of parliament, Prime Minister António Costa and Health Minister Marta Temido of his diagnosis, his office said in a statement shared on his official website.

De Sousa has canceled public appearances, including a presidential debate on Tuesday and a meeting with health officials to discuss details of a planned lockdown, Reuters reported.

De Sousa previously tested negative for the coronavirus on Wednesday after coming in close contact with an adviser who was infected and so decided to resume work, according to local news reports.

Portugal’s government is considering tougher restrictions and a potential new lockdown as it faces an alarming surge of cases. A daily record of 10,027 new cases was confirmed Wednesday, according to official reports.

More than 7,800 people have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in this European nation of about 10 million.

“If the very likely evolution [of the pandemic] is confirmed next week, we will have to adopt more restrictive measures as it has happened in other European nations,” Costa told reporters last week.

“General confinement measures could be adopted,” he said.

By: Paulina Villegas

7:51 PM: Experts predict what the 2021 housing market will bring

A bright spot in an otherwise dreary 2020 was the residential real estate market. After briefly retrenching at the beginning of the pandemic, home sales soared. A lack of homes on the market and low mortgage rates caused prices to skyrocket. Rising prices lifted home values, creating more wealth for homeowners.

But not everything was rosy. As of this month, 5.2 percent of mortgages, or 2.7 million, are in forbearance, according to Black Knight. That represents $547 billion in unpaid principal.

Experts are forecasting increased demand from buyers who delayed purchasing homes due to the pandemic. The ability to tour homes and close on purchases virtually will make buying a home simpler in 2021.

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By: Kathy Orton

7:00 PM: Three gorillas infected with coronavirus at San Diego Zoo

Three gorillas at the San Diego Zoo have been infected with the coronavirus, the first reported gorilla cases in the United States, the Agriculture Department announced Monday.

While other animals have been infected with the virus, scientists have expressed concerns about the virus in primates because of their biological similarities with humans, noting primates are susceptible to human respiratory diseases, sometimes fatally.

Gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park were tested after two began coughing.

The three infected gorillas are “expected to fully recover,” according to a news release from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a USDA agency that tracks and reports on confirmed cases of the coronavirus in animals.

Scientists have found some viruses that cause mild symptoms in people have sickened and killed apes in several African nations.

Authorities suspect an asymptomatic staff member with the coronavirus infected the gorillas, the statement said.

The gorillas tested as presumptive positives for the virus at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System, which then reported the results to state and federal officials.

As of November, 119 animals had tested positive for the coronavirus in the United States — mostly dogs and cats but minks, lions and tigers as well. Four tigers from New York were the first animals confirmed to have the virus, in March, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service database.

Most of the cases are presumed to be animals that had close contact with a person with the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no proof that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to people but still advises socially distancing pets from non-household members and isolating pets from people with the virus.

By: Paulina Villegas

6:15 PM: Indiana becomes 9th state to detect U.K. covid-19 variant

The variant strain of covid-19 first identified in the United Kingdom has now been detected in Indiana, state health officials announced Monday.

More than 60 cases of the variant strain have been identified across nine states since it was first detected stateside two weeks ago in Colorado. The U.K. variant is believed to be at least 50 percent more contagious than the common strain, though health experts do not believe it causes more severe infection.

Here’s what we know about the U.K. coronavirus variant

Indiana State Health Commissioner Kris Box noted in a statement Monday that viruses commonly mutate and that the best defense is to practice good hygiene and social distancing.

“Because this strain of the virus can be transmitted more easily, it’s more important than ever that Hoosiers continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated when they are eligible,” Box said.

Indiana is not as severely overloaded by the virus as hard-hit states like Arizona, California and Oklahoma, but its rate of new daily infections skews on the higher end with roughly 80 new cases daily per 100,000 people. Indiana’s infection rate is higher than its neighboring states Illinois, Michigan and Ohio; only Kentucky’s daily infection rate is worse.

Nearly 194,000 Indiana residents have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, with nearly 24,000 fully inoculated with both doses, according to the Indiana Department of Health.

By: Kim Bellware

6:00 PM: Vitamin D sales are up. But experts still don’t know whether it can prevent or treat the coronavirus.

Interest in vitamin D supplements has spiked during the pandemic as many people have sought ways to improve their immune health. According to Nielsen data from December, sales for vitamin D supplements increased 41.5 percent year over year. But while more research has emerged suggesting a possible connection between vitamin D deficiencies and cases of covid-19, experts say there is not yet sufficient evidence to support taking supplements to prevent or treat the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“We don’t want to come to premature conclusions or kind of pin our hopes on the wrong mechanism,” said Hana Akselrod, an infectious-disease physician at George Washington University. “On the research side, we want to be as specific as possible about what actually gets people better or protects them from infection.”

Here is what we know so far about vitamin D and covid, and why experts are urging people to approach using supplements with caution in the absence of clear data from clinical trials.

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By: Allyson Chiu

5:30 PM: With ‘worst weeks’ still ahead for Britain, Boris Johnson weighs tougher measures

a group of people in a park: Britain's Epsom Downs Racecourse, seen here in July 2020, will become a mass vaccination center. © Pool New/Reuters Britain's Epsom Downs Racecourse, seen here in July 2020, will become a mass vaccination center.

LONDON — With infections rising throughout Britain, England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, warned Monday that the next few weeks could be the “worst” of the pandemic, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the public for “maximum vigilance.” Tougher measures could be necessary if cases continue to rise, he said.

Speaking to the BBC, Whitty said Britain is in greater danger from the virus than before and urged the public to alleviate pressure on the country’s increasingly overburdened National Health Service by “minimizing the amount of unnecessary contacts.”

The new, highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus, which has been reported in more than 30 countries, is “everybody’s problem,” he said, adding that “the next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS.”

His warning came as Johnson said nationwide lockdown measures could be tightened if people failed to adhere to restrictions asking people to stay at home except for necessary travel.

“We’re going to keep the rules under constant review,” Johnson said Monday during a visit to a vaccination center in Bristol, England.

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By: Antonia Noori Farzan and Jennifer Hassan

4:45 PM: Wall Street retreats from record highs amid virus, political uncertainty

U.S. markets snapped their record-breaking streak Monday as investors waded through political and economic uncertainty amid the worsening pandemic.

Stocks got off to a strong 2021 start, with all major U.S. indexes notching back-to-back days of record closes at the end of last week — despite the assault on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob — as investors focused on the potential for greater government spending after the White House transition. But calls for the impeachment of President Trump raised the specter that the Biden administration could be kneecapped from the outset, at a time when the economic recovery is faltering and daily coronavirus infections and deaths are setting records.

Read the full story here.

By: Taylor Telford

4:00 PM: Congresswoman tests positive for coronavirus after sheltering with some maskless lawmakers during siege of Capitol

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a 75-year-old cancer survivor, has tested positive for the coronavirus after taking shelter in a room with other lawmakers, some of whom refused to wear masks, during last week’s violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

“I received a positive test result for COVID-19, and am home resting at this time,” she said in a statement. “While I am experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms, I remain in good spirits and will continue to work on behalf of my constituents.”

Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) said she believes she contracted the virus while in protected isolation during the riot. Many lawmakers were sheltered in a large committee room together as the mob stormed the Capitol.

Read the full story here.

By: Colby Itkowitz

3:15 PM: Voices from the Pandemic: ‘The truth is, nobody told us what to be ready for’

Voices from the Pandemic is an oral history of covid-19 and those affected. Roger Desjarlais, manager in Lee County, Fla., on the unanticipated challenges of rolling out the vaccine.

We’re trying to get this vaccine into people’s arms as fast as we can, but everyone seems to have a better solution than the ones we’re using. I’m not very popular right now. I’ve been called incompetent more times in the last month than I have in my whole career.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t expect for us to be managing this rollout at the county level. For whatever reason, I made the assumption back in the fall that when vaccines became available, it would be handled by some combination of federal and state government. Each state was left to figure this out. The state handed the operations piece on to the county. That’s not what I anticipated.

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By: Eli Saslow

2:35 PM: Lebanon to enforce 24-hour curfew as cases surge after the holidays

BEIRUT — One week after enforcing a three-week lockdown, Lebanon introduced stricter measures Monday to combat an alarming surge in the number of cases in the small Mediterranean country.

Lebanon, which has an estimated 6 million residents, has had nearly 220,000 cases of the coronavirus — approximately 3.7 percent of its population. Its daily number of infections rarely rose above 2,000 until late December, when a record number of cases became the norm. Last week saw over 30,000 cases.

The holiday season, stretching from Christmas until the New Year, is widely celebrated in Lebanon by Christians and Muslims alike, and many did not comply with restrictions on gatherings. The government even allowed parties or gatherings as long as they registered with a website. It is still common to see people without face masks. Clubs were open but with a ban on dancing.

The government is torn between keeping the country open to avoid a complete economic collapse, which Lebanon is already on the brink of, and shutting down the country to avoid a collapse of the health sector. Medical committees from large hospitals have announced they will no longer take any non-emergency and non-coronavirus cases and called on other hospitals to dedicate all their available beds for covid-19 patients.

The new lockdown, which goes into effect Thursday and ends Jan. 25, puts in place a 24-hour curfew, allows for delivery of groceries and food and brings down the airport’s traffic to 20 percent. Those exempt include medical workers, employees of oil and wheat sectors, journalists and people who work in fields such as telecommunication, water and electricity.

Bank branches, which have placed unlawful capital controls over the past year and have limited people’s access to their own money, will be closed.

Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report.

By: Sarah Dadouch

2:10 PM: WHO says investigation in China not about finding ‘somebody to blame,’ but science

Officials from the World Health Organization said Monday that the investigation into the origins of covid-19 was driven by scientific attempts to understand the zoonotic spread of the virus between animals and humans and would not seek to apportion blame.

“Understanding the origins of the disease is not about finding somebody to blame. It is about finding the scientific answers about that very important interface,” WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said at a news briefing in Geneva, adding that interaction between humans and animals was responsible for a variety of modern disease outbreaks.

If blame exists, Ryan said, “we can blame climate change. We can blame policy decisions made 30 years ago about everything from urbanization to the way we exploit the forest.”

The remarks came as China’s health authority said Monday that the WHO-led group would arrive in the country on Thursday to begin its long-delayed investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus. The first recorded cases of the virus were in the Chinese city of Wuhan more than a year ago.

Without giving specifics, Ryan added that politicizing the investigation into the virus’s origins could hurt the WHO’s ability to understand how the virus spread in its early period.

“We are looking for the answers here that may save us in the future. Not culprits and not people to blame,” he said. “I’m sorry for being very direct about this, but I get a sense sometimes that that is the drive. And that doesn’t help science, and that creates barriers for WHO to doing the work we need to do with the member states.”

Speaking earlier at the briefing, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had pledged to share more information about the investigation and said the team would seek to understand the source of the early infections in Wuhan.

“This is important not just for covid-19, but also for the future of global health security and to manage emerging disease threats with pandemic potential,” Tedros said.

By: Adam Taylor

1:17 PM: Vaccines were a chance to redeem failures in the U.S. coronavirus response. What went wrong?

Two promising coronavirus vaccine candidates were speeding through trials in September when the country’s top public health agency invited states to submit plans describing how they would get the shots to millions of people. It was an opportunity, eight months after the United States confirmed its first coronavirus case, to redeem the nation’s devastating failures in organizing a regimen of testing, contact tracing and equipping medical workers with protective gear.

“We have the time to take the lessons learned from the last six months and apply them forward and get it right,” Soumi Saha, a pharmacist and advocate for cost-effective health care, said on that optimistic mid-September day. “The one thing we know for sure is a fragmented approach does not work.”

But that is precisely what the nation got. Health departments and hospital executives are struggling to compensate for decentralized planning, complaining that they were not given enough money to prepare for missions that are becoming increasingly urgent as the coronavirus pandemic reaches new peaks. The United States recorded more than 4,000 covid-19 deaths on a single day last week.

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By: Lena H. Sun, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Frances Stead Sellers, Laurie McGinley, Amy Goldstein, Christopher Rowland and Carolyn Y. Johnson

12:22 PM: U.S. vaccine plan is ‘not working,’ needs a reset, former FDA chief says

Thee first phase of the largest immunization effort in American history is faltering, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday.

During an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” Gottlieb said the United States should “hit the reset button” on the current vaccination campaign and adopt a new strategy before the more contagious variants of the virus that are already spreading in the United States mutate to the point they potentially weaken the vaccine’s efficacy.

“Right now, there’s 40 million doses sitting on a shelf somewhere. So the feds say it’s with the states. The states say it’s with the feds. It really doesn’t matter to the patient who’s not getting access to the injection,” Gottlieb said.

Just 2 percent of the U.S. population has been vaccinated since the FDA approved the first two vaccine candidates a month ago.

The vaccine rollout has been plagued by logistical issues, underfunding in local health departments and a lack of a unified federal strategy. The Trump administration has punted responsibility to the states, leaving them to work up the entire framework for how to get shots into arms.

New York City’s vaccination registration process is one example of the byzantine process that many patients must navigate. Comptroller Scott Stringer criticized the city’s health department Sunday for “bewildering” sign-up procedures, including a complex account registration and 51-question field.

“We can’t force front line workers and those over 75 to confront a bewildering signup process,” Stringer said via Twitter. “Any barrier to getting shots in arms is only going to prolong the agony of this crisis.”

The United States will have to vaccinate 1 million people a day if it wants to meet its goal of having three-fourths of the population inoculated by September, Peter Hotez, a professor studying molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a recent op-ed.

Hotez encouraged the federal government to fund mass-scale vaccination efforts and streamline the clunky process. He stressed the benefit of inoculating as many people as quickly as possible with the first dose.

By: Kim Bellware

11:33 AM: Gilead expects remdesivir treatment to work on covid variant, CEO says

The antiviral drug remdesivir is likely to effectively treat variant strains of covid-19, the head of drugmaker Gilead Sciences said Monday.

The company is testing the drug on new coronavirus variants first detected in Britain and South Africa to determine its efficacy. But Gilead has already found in laboratory tests that remdesivir maintains its effectiveness against 2,000 coronavirus strains, chief executive Daniel O’Day said.

“Remdesivir works at the source in the cell where the virus replicates, and what we know is in these new variants, that part of the cell is not changing at all in fact,” O’Day said Monday during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box. “So, we fully expect remdesivir to be effective against these new strains.”

Hospitalized patients with covid-19 can receive remdesivir, which may shorten their recovery time. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug last year, under an emergency use authorization.

The variant is believed to be more transmissible than the older strain, which may force more sick people into hospitals and increase the number of fatalities. And as countries rush to inoculate their populations, the spread of a more infectious coronavirus variant could dim the prospect of widespread immunity.

By: Hamza Shaban

10:23 AM: Wall Street pulls back amid virus, political uncertainty

U.S. markets snapped their record-breaking streak Monday as investors waded through political and economic uncertainty and weighed the fallout of the worsening pandemic.

Stocks kicked off 2021 with a bang, with all major U.S. indexes notching back-to-back days of record closes at the end of last week despite the assault on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, as investors focused on the potential for greater government spending in the Biden administration. Calls for the impeachment of President Trump raised the specter the Biden administration would be kneecapped from the outset amid signs of a faltering economic recovery and as daily coronavirus deaths set records.

The Dow Jones industrial average swooned 250 points after the opening bell Monday before recovering somewhat. It remained down 0.5 percent, at 30,924. The S&P 500 slumped 0.8 percent to 3,792, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 1.4 percent to 13,026.

Tech stocks were hit hard Monday as investors anticipated intense backlash from the White House following Twitter’s decision to ban Trump’s account. Twitter’s shares plummeted 10.7 percent in morning trading. Facebook, which suspended Trump’s account indefinitely, traded more than 3.7 percent lower.

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By: Taylor Telford

9:55 AM: Heat-Celtics game is postponed as the NBA’s coronavirus woes mount

The NBA’s attempt to play through the coronavirus pandemic faced challenges on multiple fronts this weekend. After the Philadelphia 76ers narrowly avoided a postponement of Saturday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, the league called off a matchup Sunday between the Boston Celtics and visiting Miami Heat.

“Because of ongoing contact tracing with the Heat, the team does not have the league-required eight available players to proceed with tonight’s game against the Celtics,” the NBA said after the Athletic reported that a Miami player returned an inconclusive result for a coronavirus test.

That may have come as a relief to the Celtics, who would have barely been able to field eight players, most of whom would have been shorter guards. Boston star Jayson Tatum tested positive for the coronavirus Friday, the Boston Globe reported, and he entered a 10- to 14-day isolation period.

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By: Ben Golliver and Des Bieler

9:12 AM: Tales from the jab: How people in 6 countries got their vaccines

In Moscow, a vaccine appointment is a phone call away. In Israel, a text message arrives. Across Italy, the idea is to make getting a coronavirus shot part of the landscape with kiosks, decorated with a purple flower, in piazzas from the Alps to the Mediterranean.

The United States, which began vaccinations Dec. 14, has tried to speed up the delivery of doses amid the many different rules and priorities among the states. Other parts of the world, with more centralized health-care systems, are mobilizing their own initial waves of inoculations with often more coordinated strategies.

The Washington Post checked in with people in six countries on their experiences as they took the first steps to join the growing ranks of the vaccinated.

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By: Washington Post Staff

8:31 AM: Palestinians to receive Sputnik, AstraZeneca vaccines in coming months

a man talking on a cell phone: A Palestinian medical worker takes a swab sample for coronavirus testing from a man at a street market in Gaza City on Jan. 11. © Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images A Palestinian medical worker takes a swab sample for coronavirus testing from a man at a street market in Gaza City on Jan. 11.

The Palestinian Authority’s first doses of coronavirus vaccine will begin arriving as early as next month, following deals with Britain’s AstraZeneca and for Russia’s Sputnik V shot.

An initial batch of Sputnik vaccine is expected to arrive in the Palestinian territories within a month, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is helping ramp up vaccine production, said Monday in a statement.

The Moscow-based sovereign wealth fund said the vaccine was registered under an emergency use authorization.

A Palestinian health official told Reuters that in addition to reaching an agreement in principle with AstraZeneca, the Palestinian Authority has also reached out to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Additional supplies could also come through the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative, which seeks equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines, the official said.

On Sunday, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry accused Israel of “ignoring its duties as an occupation power and committing racial discrimination against the Palestinian people, depriving them of their right to health care.”

In a statement, the ministry said “the search by the Palestinian leadership to secure the vaccines from various sources doesn’t exempt Israel from its responsibilities toward the Palestinian people in providing the vaccines.”

Israel leads the world in per capita vaccinations. While it has administered doses to Israeli settlers in the West Bank, it has not secured vaccines for the Palestinian population. Its immunization program covers Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem but excludes those living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Israel’s covid-19 vaccine program highlights the institutionalized discrimination that defines the Israeli government’s policy towards Palestinians,” Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director, Saleh Higazi, said last week.

“While Israel celebrates a record-setting vaccination drive, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer — there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones,” Higazi said.

By: Erin Cunningham

8:00 AM: World travel body says coronavirus vaccine requirement is ‘discrimination’

a person standing next to a suitcase: Requiring travelers to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus amounts to "discrimination," the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council said Monday. © Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images Requiring travelers to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus amounts to "discrimination," the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council said Monday.

Making coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for international travel amounts to “discrimination” and should be scrapped by airlines and policymakers, the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council said Monday.

Council Chief Executive Gloria Guevara spoke at a virtual summit organized by Reuters, where she said: “We should never require the vaccination to get a job or to travel.

“If you require the vaccination before travel, that takes us to discrimination,” she said, Reuters reported.

Few nations have said that they plan to make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory, despite a staggering surge in cases across the globe in the past few months. Some countries have been slow to roll out immunization programs, citing logistics and, in some cases, populations skeptical of the vaccines’ safety.

Guevara has said that a vaccine requirement for global travel would “kill” the sector, which has already suffered its worst losses since the global financial crash in 2009, according to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization.

The World Travel and Tourism Council represents industry leaders, airlines, airports, hospitality groups and other travel-related businesses.

Last month, Spain said that it would create a registry of citizens who declined vaccination — and that the database would be shared with other European Union nations. In November, the chief executive of Australia’s Qantas Airways also said that vaccines would be “a necessity” to fly.

“I think that’s going to be a common thing talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe,” he said, according to the BBC.

The World Health Organization said last month that it does not support mandatory vaccinations and that governments should rely on information campaigns and prioritizing vulnerable groups for immunization.

According to Guevara, airline safety protocols and onboard air filtration mean passengers have “less chance to get covid in a plane [than] in a supermarket,” Reuters reported Monday.

By: Erin Cunningham

7:30 AM: Scores of nurses with Chicago Public Schools say reopening buildings is still unsafe

Scores of nurses in the Chicago Public Schools district have objected to officials’ plans to begin bringing students back to classrooms on Monday, saying they do not think it is safe to do so. Chicago public schools have been closed since March.

A statement signed by 147 school nurses (see text below) says: “Many of us are CPS parents ourselves, and all wish to be back in school buildings, but the simple fact is that it is currently not safe to do this.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) is going ahead with a plan to bring back some elementary and special-needs students on Monday. Teachers who are expected to return but don’t will have their pay withheld. Lightfoot has said that schools have taken precautions so that they can reopen safely, and that students must get back to in-person learning because it is superior to online schooling.

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By: Valerie Strauss

7:00 AM: WHO scientists investigating covid origins to arrive in China Thursday

a sign on the side of a building: This Jan. 12, 2020 photo shows a woman walking in front of the closed Huanan wholesale seafood market, where health authorities say a man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods from, in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province. © Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images This Jan. 12, 2020 photo shows a woman walking in front of the closed Huanan wholesale seafood market, where health authorities say a man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods from, in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province.

TAIPEI — A team of scientists investigating the origins of the coronavirus will arrive in China on Thursday, more than a week after the World Health Organization mission was to begin — delays that have prompted concerns about how much access and freedom the researchers will be given.

China’s health authority said on Monday that the WHO-led group would begin its visit this week but did not offer more details of the agenda. A statement from China’s National Health Commission said the international team would conduct “joint scientific research” alongside Chinese scientists.

The WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcomed the announcement saying he looked forward to working closely with the Chinese “on this critical mission to identify the virus source & its route of introduction to the human population.”

Politics frustrate WHO mission to search for origins of coronavirus in China

Members of the team have previously said the mission would last for several weeks and that they expected to visit Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in December 2019.

The U.N. health agency has worked for most of the last year to get access to China, which had for months opposed calls for an international probe into the source of the virus. The long-awaited mission was finally scheduled to start earlier this month but was abruptly delayed when Chinese authorities did not grant the necessary “permissions,” according to Tedros. The delay pushed him to issue a rare public rebuke of Beijing, saying last week that he was “very disappointed.”

The question of the origins of the virus is particularly sensitive to Beijing as it fends off accusations from critics like the Trump administration that it is to blame for the pandemic. China has faced scrutiny over its slow response to the virus in the early days of the outbreak and suppression of information. In recent months, Chinese officials have more aggressively promoted the idea that the coronavirus entered China from the outside. Authorities have also censored domestic research on the topic.

Why the search for the real origin of the coronavirus is a global concern

The WHO mission comes as the country battles a resurgent outbreak near Beijing in the neighboring province of Hebei, where more than 265 locally transmitted cases of coronavirus have been reported since early January. The provincial capital Shijiazhuang, the epicenter of the new cluster, has been placed under lockdown, with the city’s 11 million people barred from leaving. A total of more than 19 million people, in Shijiazhuang and two other cities in Hebei province, were ordered on Friday to quarantine at home for seven days

Shi Jian, director of the Hebei Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Sunday that authorities could not yet see “a turning point” for the Hebei outbreak. In a nod to concerns over underreporting by local authorities, on Friday Premier Li Keqiang called on officials to “transparently release epidemic information and never allow concealing.”

By: Lily Kuo

6:47 AM: Cuba will test coronavirus vaccine in Iran, both countries say

a group of people walking down the street talking on a cell phone: Cuba will test its most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidate in Phase 3 trials in Iran, both countries said. © Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Cuba will test its most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidate in Phase 3 trials in Iran, both countries said.

Cuba will test its top coronavirus vaccine candidate on Iranian volunteers, officials said over the weekend, as part of a wider agreement to ramp up immunization efforts in both countries.

Representatives from Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute and the Pasteur Institute of Iran signed an accord in Havana allowing Phase 3 clinical trials to open in Iran, to “move forward faster in immunization against Covid-19 in both countries,” a statement said.

The agreement also covers a technology transfer for the vaccine — known as Soberana 2 (Sovereign 2) — to Iran and calls for joint production of the doses, a spokesman for Iran’s Health Ministry said. Both nations are under harsh U.S. sanctions that technically include exemptions for medicine but also discourage foreign companies and banks from doing business with local institutions.

The announcement comes as Iran’s supreme leader on Friday declared a ban on all U.S. and British-made vaccines, suggesting that they are “untrustworthy.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani followed his remarks and said: “Foreign companies wanted to give us vaccines so they would be tested on the Iranian people. But the Health Ministry prevented it.”

“Our people will not be a testing device for vaccine manufacturing companies,” he said, Agence France-Presse reported. “We shall purchase safe foreign vaccines.”

According to Iranian Health Ministry official Kianush Jahanpur, the Phase 3 trials will include 50,000 volunteers in Iran, Reuters reported. It was unclear when the trials would start.

Iran says that it has also developed its own vaccine, which it will soon begin testing in Phase 1 trials.

By: Erin Cunningham

6:17 AM: Indonesia becomes first country outside China to authorize Sinovac vaccine

In this photo from the Indonesian Presidential Palace, workers unload a container containing coronavirus vaccines made by Chinese company Sinovac at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, Dec. 6, 2020. © AP/AP In this photo from the Indonesian Presidential Palace, workers unload a container containing coronavirus vaccines made by Chinese company Sinovac at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, Dec. 6, 2020.

Indonesian regulators have granted emergency approval to the Chinese-made Sinovac coronavirus vaccine, becoming the first country outside China to do so.

The vaccine was 65.3 percent effective in late-stage human trials conducted in Indonesia, regulators said Monday, according to Reuters. That would it make somewhat less effective than the roughly 95 percent efficacy demonstrated by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that have been granted emergency authorization in many other countries, including the United States.

Sinovac has not released its own efficacy data, and the results of international trials have varied widely: A Brazilian study showed that the vaccine was 78 percent effective, while Turkish researchers found an efficacy rate of 91 percent.

Since the World Health Organization only requires coronavirus vaccines are effective more than half the time, the Sinovac vaccine clears the necessary hurdles, Penny K. Lukito, who heads the Indonesian regulatory agency BPOM, said Monday, according to Reuters.

Indonesia has the worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia, by many metrics. Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University show the country has reported more than 826,000 infections and 24,000 fatalities to date — giving it a death rate that is more than five times that of neighboring Malaysia. The Indonesian government has committed to purchasing roughly 125 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine.

By: Antonia Noori Farzan

5:47 AM: Thai tourism minister proposes letting people quarantine at golf resorts

a view of a city with tall buildings in a grassy field: Thailand's Bangkok Royal Sports Club, seen last week, appears deserted. © Andre Malerba/Bloomberg Thailand's Bangkok Royal Sports Club, seen last week, appears deserted.

Thailand’s tourism minister hopes to boost the country’s economy by allowing overseas visitors to quarantine at golf resorts, Reuters reported.

Like many countries that have successfully averted disastrous coronavirus outbreaks, Thailand requires international travelers to spend two weeks at a government-approved quarantine hotel upon arrival. While doing so has paid off — the Southeast Asian country has reported only 67 coronavirus-related fatalities to date, one of the lowest tallies worldwide — it has also taken a painful toll on the lucrative tourism industry.

Under the proposed plan, tourists would no longer be stuck in their rooms for the two-week quarantine period, Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said Monday. Instead, they would be able to golf and explore the resorts, presumably while keeping a safe distance from others.

The concept is somewhat similar to a policy being tested by the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which last week began allowing people to quarantine in a handful of preapproved “resort bubbles.” The program requires tourists to get tested for the coronavirus in the 72 hours leading up to their flight to the island, and then again once they have been on the island for more than 72 hours. While awaiting the results, they are free to “enjoy resort amenities and visit the pool” at their resort, according to Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami.

Crucially, “resort bubble” guests in Kauai are also required to wear a monitoring bracelet that tracks their movements during the quarantine period. It’s not clear whether Thailand intends to follow suit, and the proposed plan has not yet been approved by any government authorities.

By: Antonia Noori Farzan

5:17 AM: Chicago teachers balk at reopening plan, face pay loss if they don’t return

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools will reopen for some students Monday for the first time since last spring amid an escalating clash between city officials, who are threatening to withhold pay from teachers who do not show up, and the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, which contends that schools are not properly outfitted to combat the coronavirus.

Teachers who don’t show up for work Monday “will be deemed absent without leave and will not be eligible for pay,” said Janice Jackson, CEO of the nation’s third-largest school district.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she is determined to reopen schools Monday, starting a phased return to in-person learning, and that city officials are “doing everything we can to place safety in this pandemic at front and center.”

But teachers, many of whom returned to classrooms last Monday to start to prepare, said they found conditions unacceptable and called the demand for them to start teaching “heartless.”

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By: Dawn Reiss

4:47 AM: Nigeria surpasses 100,000 cases as Africa’s most populous country battles ‘alarming’ second wave

a man holding a sign: A man reads a newspaper on a street in Lagos, Nigeria, Jan. 7, 2021. © Sunday Alamba/AP A man reads a newspaper on a street in Lagos, Nigeria, Jan. 7, 2021.

DAKAR, Senegal — Nigeria has surpassed the 100,000 mark of recorded coronavirus cases, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control reported, as infections surge in Africa’s most populous country.

The daily tally of new cases spiked over the last week, jumping from 809 on Jan. 3 to a record high of 1,429 on Sunday.

The grim milestone comes less than a month after the president’s covid-19 task force declared the country of roughly 200 million was battling a second wave.

The southwestern state of Ekiti announced a new nighttime curfew Monday, citing the “alarming” spread of the virus.

Recorded cases on the continent broke the 3 million mark on Sunday, public health officials said, cautioning that testing remains limited. The confirmed death toll stood at 72,121.

Nigeria has reported sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest caseload. Bigger outbreaks are afflicting South Africa and Ethiopia, according to the latest numbers.

By: Danielle Paquette

4:17 AM: IOC member says ‘it’s far too early to panic’ about Tokyo Olympics amid coronavirus upsurge

International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said plans for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, postponed until this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, look “encouraging” even though the country declared a state of emergency in its capital city Thursday as cases continue to surge.

“The elephant in the room remains the virus,” Pound said Friday in a telephone interview. “And, you know, if there is an uncontrolled upsurge, well, that will certainly increase the risk. But on the preparations to date and the results to date, it looks pretty encouraging. It may be stripped down a little bit, but the important thing is that they take place so that message gets out to the world that we can beat this thing.”

Although Japan has seen a lower prevalence of positive tests than the United States or countries in Europe, cases have surged over the past two months to the point that hospitals are starting to be overwhelmed.

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By: Matt Bonesteel and Rick Maese

3:54 AM: Roughly 80 percent oppose holding Tokyo Olympics this summer, poll shows

a person standing in front of water: A man and a woman walk past near the Olympic rings floating in the water in Tokyo last months. © Eugene Hoshiko/AP A man and a woman walk past near the Olympic rings floating in the water in Tokyo last months.

Support for holding the Olympics in Japan this summer has plummeted, according to a new poll from Kyodo News Agency that found that roughly 80 percent of respondents felt the event should be canceled or rescheduled.

That figure represents a significant jump since early December, when roughly 60 percent were opposed to allowing the Tokyo Olympics to go forward as planned. In the intervening weeks, worsening coronavirus caseloads have prompted the government to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo amid fears that the surge could overwhelm hospitals.

The Tokyo Olympics, which were originally supposed to take place in the summer of 2020, are supposed to begin on July 23 — roughly a year later than planned. Japan’s agreement with the International Olympic Committee states that the event cannot be delayed beyond summer 2021 (and that it will still be referred to as the “Tokyo 2020″ Olympics, even if it takes place in 2021).

Japanese authorities have insisted that the Tokyo Games will not be delayed again, and can be held safely. But public opinion is souring, and Richard Pound, a senior IOC official, told reporters last week that he has his own doubts.

“I can’t be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus,” he said, according to ESPN.

Once considered a pandemic success story, Japan still has far lower infection rates than the United States but has suffered from a sense of complacency, while resisting lockdown measures that could lessen the spread of the virus but might damage the economy.

Potentially bolstering fears about international travel, Japanese health officials announced Sunday that they had detected a new coronavirus variant in four travelers arriving from Brazil. However, they also said there was no evidence that it is as infectious as the variants discovered in Britain and South Africa.

By: Antonia Noori Farzan

3:17 AM: Pope Francis plans to get coronavirus vaccine, calling it ethical obligation

ROME — In a forthcoming television interview, The Washington Post reported Saturday, Pope Francis says he will soon receive a coronavirus vaccination, perhaps as early as next week, while calling the inoculation a duty for everyone.

“I believe that ethically everyone needs to receive the vaccine,” Francis said in an interview with Italy’s TG5 that will air Sunday.

Francis did not specify the exact timing of his inoculation, but the pontiff said the Vatican’s vaccine rollout will begin next week and that he had already booked an appointment.

Francis’s plan sends a significant pro-vaccine signal to the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics. But it also marks a crucial step in safeguarding an 84-year-old who is missing part of a lung, doesn’t like to wear a mask and relishes face-to-face interaction.

Vatican watchers had widely expected that Francis would be administered the jab, and he has spoken favorably for months about the international vaccine effort, calling it a light of hope “in this time of darkness.”

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By: Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli

2:27 AM: Mexico reports first confirmed case of U.K. variant

a man holding a dog: A doctor tends to patients at a clinic set up for asylum seekers in the Mexican border town of Matamoros in November. © Eric Gay/AP A doctor tends to patients at a clinic set up for asylum seekers in the Mexican border town of Matamoros in November.

Mexico has joined the list of countries where the highly contagious new coronavirus variant first detected in Britain is present, authorities announced Sunday.

Highlighting how international travel has allowed the new variant to spread worldwide, health officials said that the strain was identified in a 56-year-old British man who flew from Amsterdam to Mexico City in late December, then boarded another plane to Matamoros, a city on the Texas border. The man was asymptomatic when he arrived, Jose Luis Alomia, the top national epidemiologist, told reporters, according to Reuters.

The patient tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 31, the second time that he was tested, and has since been hospitalized with severe symptoms. He was placed on a ventilator on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Mexico has the world’s fourth-highest tally of coronavirus-related fatalities, and the nearly 134,000 deaths that have been reported to date are widely agreed to be an undercount. On Sunday, the spokesman for Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador revealed his own coronavirus diagnosis, but did not indicate if he had recently been in contact with the president or if the president had been tested.

Health officials said Sunday that the new variant was not believed to be circulating widely. But, as the Associated Press noted, Mexico conducts very little coronavirus testing and the British patient only got tested because his employer, which had sent him to Matamoros, required him to do so.

Contact tracing has also run into hurdles: Of the 45 other passengers on the plane to Matamoros, 12 have not been located, officials said. Another 31 have not shown any symptoms, while two have tested negative, according to the AP.

By: Antonia Noori Farzan

1:27 AM: As Biden promises to hurry vaccines, a British experiment could be a test case

LONDON — Faced with soaring hospitalizations and deaths, Britain is launching a daring campaign to combat a ferociously infectious variant of the coronavirus by spacing the first and second doses of approved vaccines out over months instead of weeks.

The full vaccine deployment plan will be published by the government Monday, but the difficult decision to alter the recommended vaccination schedules will apply to the entire population, including the elderly and health-care workers.

Without enough doses immediately available, public health officials are betting that crucial second injections of two approved vaccines can be pushed back from their recommended waiting intervals — 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for AstraZeneca — to 84 days for both.

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By: William Booth

12:57 AM: The queen gets her shot in pro-vaccine message to Britain

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, received their first coronavirus vaccine doses on Saturday, Buckingham Palace said in a rare medical statement apparently aimed to show royal support for the vaccination effort.

The 94-year-old queen and Philip, 99, received their vaccines by a royal household doctor at Windsor Castle. Their ages put them among the high-risk groups that are being prioritized during the country’s vaccine rollout, which has seen 1.5 million people receive at least one dose of a vaccine.

Buckingham Palace said in a statement: “The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have today received Covid-19 vaccinations.”

It is highly unusual for the palace to release private medical details, but a palace spokeswoman told The Washington Post that “a decision was taken by Her Majesty to let it be known to prevent inaccuracies and further speculation.”

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By: Karla Adam

12:28 AM: As spending climbs and revenue falls, the coronavirus forces a global reckoning

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Costa Rica built Latin America’s model society, enacting universal health care and spending its way to one of the Western Hemisphere’s highest literacy rates. Now, it’s reeling from the financially crushing side effects of the coronavirus, as cratering revenue and crisis spending force a reckoning over a massive pile of government debt.

The pandemic is hurtling heavily leveraged nations into an economic danger zone, threatening to bankrupt the worst-affected. Costa Rica, a country known for zip-lining tourists and American retirees, is scrambling to stave off a full-blown debt crisis, imposing emergency cuts and proposing harsher measures that touched off rare violent protests last fall. To keep the lights on, a progressive, eco-friendly nation is weighing desperate solutions — including open-pit gold mining, even oceanic fracking.

Around the globe, the pandemic is racking up a mind-blowing bill: trillions of dollars in lost tax revenue, ramped-up spending and new borrowing set to burden the next generation with record levels of debt.

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By: Alexander Villegas, Anthony Faiola and Lesley Wroughton

12:27 AM: Three-quarters of covid-19 patients experienced symptoms six months later, Chinese study shows

a statue of a man standing in front of a building: Workers in protective suits walk through Wuhan as lockdown measures lifted in early April. © Ng Han Guan/AP Workers in protective suits walk through Wuhan as lockdown measures lifted in early April.

Chinese researchers who conducted the largest study of the long-term health consequences of covid-19 found that three-quarters of patients showed symptoms six months after being discharged from the hospital, with fatigue and muscle weakness prevalent. Sleep difficulties, kidney malfunction, anxiety and depression were reported to be common as well.

The study of 1,733 patients, conducted at Jin Yin-tan Hospital in Wuhan, China, the original epicenter of the outbreak, was published this month in the Lancet. The British journal said the Jin Yin-tan Hospital study was the largest cohort study to date and had the longest follow-up period. The Chinese researchers essentially enrolled every one of the hospital’s covid-19 patients in the tracking study, except those who refused to participate, those who had other disqualifying conditions or those who died or could not be reached.

Researchers worldwide say the long-term effects of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are still not fully known. Anecdotal evidence and smaller or shorter studies suggest that covid-19 may have a lasting impact on a patient’s sense of taste and smell, among other things.

The Chinese study, which included patient questionnaires, blood and pulmonary tests, and walking tests, found that 76 percent reported symptoms six months after being discharged. More than 60 percent reported fatigue and muscle weakness, while about a quarter reported sleep difficulties and hair loss.

Anxiety and depression were also common and reported by 23 percent of subjects.

Tests showed a “considerable” proportion of patients had poor lung function six months after being discharged. About 56 percent of patients who had the worst symptoms and needed a ventilator showed abnormal pulmonary diffusion capability after six months, while 22 percent of less severe cases — those who did not require supplemental oxygen — showed reduced lung diffusion. The study noted that researchers did not have baseline pulmonary function data to compare with the six-month results.

“These results support that those with severe disease need post-discharge care. Longer follow-up studies in a larger population are necessary to understand the full spectrum of health consequences from COVID-19,” the authors concluded.

By: Gerry Shih

12:21 AM: Lawmakers may have been exposed to the coronavirus in Capitol lockdown, attending physician says

Lawmakers who hunkered down together for safety while a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday may have been exposed to someone in the same room who was infected with the coronavirus, according to the Office of the Attending Physician.

“On Wednesday January 6, many members of the House community were in protective isolation in a room located in a large committee hearing space,” Brian Monahan, the attending physician to Congress, wrote in an email that was sent to lawmakers Sunday morning. “The time in this room was several hours for some and briefer for others. During this time, individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”

Experts have warned that the storming of the Capitol building could have contributed to the public health crisis as a potential superspreader event.

“There’s going to be chains of transmission that come out of that kind of mass gathering,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday during an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

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By: Paulina Firozi and Amy B Wang


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